More subsidies for the solar industry in Arizona are crucial to avoid being left behind by other states and China, a Phoenix business leader said today at a solar-power conference.
Tax incentives and loan guarantees "make a lot of sense" right now in Arizona, which is already a leader in the industry, said Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council at the Solarpraxis convention.
Despite the high-profile financial failure of the Solyndra solar plant this year in California, Broome told a packed conference room that solar power is destined to be a major force in Arizona and elsewhere. The only question, as he sees it, is whether sunny-skied Arizona will take full advantage.
About 200 representatives of solar companies from around the United States and Europe, particularly solar-heavy Germany, listened to Broome's speech at the downtown Phoenix Sheraton hotel.
Behind Broome on an overhead screen, a chart showed that Texas, Oregon, Nevada and other states provide more "aggressive economic development tools," (a.k.a. public money), for solar power than Arizona, and the state can't compete without doing the same thing.
In meeting with Arizona Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain as part of his lobbying efforts, he said he emphasized the massive growth charted for the industry.
"The fact that it saves the environment and you don't believe that -- don't worry about that," he says, adding that he typicallly won't mention global warming in his industry pitch because "I don't know, and I don't care."
The growth of solar is inevitable, especially in the Valley, he insisted. Eventually, the power plants using coal and other fossil fuels will need to be replaced. The rest of the world won't stand by idly if it's replaced with more coal plants, he said, and nuclear plants, meanwhile, are seen as too dangerous. That leaves a lot of room for solar to grow.
While solar will be only one of the industries that the United States and China will be "fighting" over for dominance, China -- a leading maker of photovoltaic solar panels -- will be an important ally for Arizona solar power in the next few years, Broome said. It already has been important: For instance, Arizona State University, said to be the most solarized big university in the country, partnered with China's Suntech company.
Broome noted that 12 Chinese solar companies are considering opening up in Arizona within the next two years, he said.
To help move the industry's message, Broome said, solar advocates must stop infighting over their competing technologies and present a unified and positive position.
"You have to sell the technology as universally good," he said. "GPEC's doing a better job for your industry than your industry."
Broome met with New Times and several other reporters after his speech, where he continued his pitch.
California, with its much larger, power-hungry population, will continue to provide the biggest demand for Arizona's solar-power plants. Using the desert along the California border, Arizona solar providers could be as important to the country as the Alaskan pipeline.
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Arizona solar investments currently use one-third of all the federal loan guarantees for the industry and should capitalize on those investments by building even more, he said. The longer the state waits and listens to "adversaries," the more chance it will give up business to California.
Besides the large-scale plants, Arizona could see 100,000 to 200,000 residential rooftops with solar panels within 10 years, he said.
When the homebuilders get busy again -- no telling when that will be, but Broome predicted it would start happening in a couple of years -- they will likely offer new-home buyers a solar option that would be figured into the mortgage payments.
Solar is still more expensive than traditional power-generation methods, but that's expected to change in coming years, both due to fossil-fuel power getting more expensive and solar technology becoming cheaper.