February 8, 2012

Arizona Democrats push renewable energy bill

Give money to schools to install solar panels on their roofs. Eliminate extra paperwork for homeowners seeking to install panels on their roofs. Endorse a plan that encourages utilities to invest in the state’s renewable energy industry. These are just a few proposals from House Democrats who have either designed or revived initiatives this session to promote renewable energy, despite anticipated opposition from Republicans.

Chad Campbell, D–Phoenix, the House minority leader, introduced this session’s most sweeping renewable energy bill, HB 2298, which would allow cities and counties to create renewable energy improvement districts.

Improvement districts are currently formed for the construction or operation of traditional projects such as roads or waterworks. These districts may levy taxes or issue bonds for their improvements.

“This is a way to allow people who might not be able to get access to the capital you need for solar installations to do that with very low risk. It’s job creation. It’s raising property values,” Campbell said. “Not pushing renewable energy development or investment is very shortsighted and makes no economic sense.”

Under his bill, renewable energy improvement districts would be formed if all real property owners within the proposed area sign a petition and submit it to the municipality for consideration.

The improvements could be on public or private real estate or buildings, and the government wouldn’t be able to require anyone to participate.

Campbell pulled the bill from the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee agenda on Jan. 23 after learning about opposition from the Arizona Bankers Association.

Stacey Langford, the group’s vice president, raised concerns about mortgage holders. She said improvement districts would change the status of home liens, or legal claims or holds on property.

Campbell said he doesn’t consider that concern valid.

“You’re increasing the value of the property and the value of the area, but the banks only care about the bottom line,” he said.

Campbell said he plans to work to address the group’s concerns and revive the bill, which first garnered support when it was introduced in 2009 by Rep. Lucy Mason, R–Prescott.

Bret Fanshaw, an advocate for Environment Arizona, said that to get renewable energy bills taken seriously, Democratic legislators often need Republican allies to put their names on them.

“In the same breath, Republicans will say, ‘We can’t subsidize renewable energy, but we need to find ways to get loans for nuclear energy,’” Fanshaw said. “Democrats are up against this idea from the conservative side that they should let the markets decide.”

Other renewable energy bills have yet to be assigned to committees or have yet to be scheduled for committee hearings.

Rep. Daniel Patterson, D–Tucson, introduced a resolution, HCR 2002, to support the Arizona Corporation Commission’s efforts to adopt a statewide feed-in tariff to boost solar energy production.

Proponents say feed–in tariffs encourage utility companies to support the renewable energy industry by offering long–term contracts to renewable energy developers.

The resolution suggests that the tariff be adopted through a pilot program targeting schools, nonprofits and government institutions. It notes that those institutions have held off adopting solar energy because they aren’t eligible for the federal renewable energy tax credit.

“This is an area where we need to be more competitive,” Patterson said. “It’s something that people in Arizona understand more than most politicians.”

A bill introduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, is intended to speed up the process of creating municipal renewable energy incentive districts.

Currently, county boards of supervisors can designate these incentive districts, or areas where the board must adopt a plan to encourage the construction and operation of renewable energy equipment.

Under HB 2243, the Arizona Commerce Authority would grant money to municipalities through its Arizona Competes Fund to help defray the administrative costs of issuing solar permits. The municipalities would have to guarantee that solar permits would be issued within six weeks of receiving an application.

“Cities don’t have the capabilities to set up the administrative side to get these districts built fast,” Gallego said.

Farley’s bill would create a state solar grants program fund for schools to install solar panels. The money would be continuously appropriated from Arizona Commerce Authority and be administered by the Department of Education.

“The bill sends a message to every solar energy company in the world that we are serious about renewable energy,” he said. “I would hope that my Republican colleagues, with their professed emphasis on jobs, would support this.”
The bills:

• HB 2298
Author: Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.
Provision: Would allow local governments to create renewable energy improvement districts.

• HCR 2002
Author: Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson.
Provision: Would express the Legislature’s suppoet for feed-in tariff program by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

• HB 2258
Author: Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
Provision: Would create a solar school grant program.

• HB 2243
Author: Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix.
Provision: Would provide state money to defray administrative costs of issuing solar permits for cities and towns in renewable energy improvement districts.

• HB 2085
Author: Rep. Eddie Ableser, D-Tempe.
Provision: Would establish renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements for state buildings and owners of space leased to state operations.


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