Monday, August 16, 2010


Two seats on the important Arizona Corporation Commission will be determined in the upcoming fall election. Interests -- special and otherwise -- are asking questions of the candidates.

There has been a flurry of questions and questionnaires for the candidates. Yet, there is one very fundamental question that has not been addressed directly to the candidates for the ACC.

THE BIG QUESTION is foundational not only to Arizona’s economics, but it is the cornerstone of any intention for the future of Arizona’s present citizens, as well as those imagined and hoped for future citizens. The answer to THE BIG QUESTION will reveal the vision for Arizona held by anyone who dares to respond.

Yet, for all of its importance, THE BIG QUESTION remains esoteric. It is a question that resonates with very few voters. It is both complex and subtle. It is a question that challenges the taproot of Arizona’s power, water, and money. It is a question that is embarrassing for those who understand the situation, as well as for those who should have understood the situation.

However, because the answer to THE BIG QUESTION is of critical importance to Arizona and its neighbors, because THE BIG QUESTION is almost never asked, because THE BIG QUESTION remains unanswered, and because the act of simply asking THE BIG QUESTION brings clarity, all the candidates for the two seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission -- David Bradley, Brenda Burns, Jorge Luis Garcia, Renz Jennings, Gary Pierce, and Barry Wong -- are asked:

What do you propose to do in order to rationalize the structures of Arizona’s electric utility rate schedules so that these rate schedules no longer defeat the value of investments in solar energy and energy conservation, and to eliminate the hidden energy tax created by these rate schedules?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Free Poison

Note: Free Poison was written in response to an editorial, Solar, without intrusive regulations, written by Le Templar, Communications Director of the Goldwater Institute and published in the March 8th, 2010 edition of The Arizona Republic.

Arizona monster

In a fog, even the myopic can seem farsighted. One hears the echoes of the Goldwater Institute’s delusional mantra of “free market” everywhere in Arizona; in casual conversation, in the papers, in the shallow bluster of political radio, in the state legislature, and in the chambers of the Arizona Corporation Commission. The Goldwater Institute is greatly responsible for this persistent and pernicious oversimplification and misdirection.

The central problem with energy in Arizona is not regulation, per se, but rather the vampiric economics that have resulted from atrociously poor regulation.

Arizona’s position at the center of the world’s sustainable energy future has long been impeded by economic manipulations that were spawned in order to artificially support a collection of economically unsustainable energy sources squandered in order to power an even more spectacularly unsustainable ‘growth machine’. Whether from the earth or from its citizens, Arizona suffers most from a chronic habit of extraction.

Arizona’s single, sustainable source of power -– solar energy -- has been long repressed by utility rate schedules that have placed solar at an economic disadvantage in our nation’s sunniest state. These same rate schedules have also defeated the value of energy conservation; so that today, the Arizona desert swelters under the weight of a burgeoning population of energy spendthrifts inhabiting a landscape of increasingly costly, shabby boxes.

These circumstances exist out of both intention and ignorance. The solar industry requires subsidies today, not because of the real economics of the technology, but only because of the enormous imbalance that results from both the apparent and the hidden subsidies given to traditional energy sources.

Of all the many ways the Goldwater Institute is wrong, one of the most fundamental is their focus on energy commerce. The essential problem is not one of commerce; rather, it is a problem of accounting.

The hidden taxes that have been perpetuated by Arizona’s so-called “utility-rate regulators” continue to drain its citizens. Despite long warnings, this very basic problem remains unaddressed.

Still, these problems are not intractable. First, the delusion of a “free market” must be discarded. Where extraction is inherent, there is no “free”. Such fantasies come only from ignoring the realities of ecological constraints. Until the reptilian thinking propagated by the Goldwater Institute slithers back into the shadows and under the rocks to avoid being trampled, Arizona will remain addled and threatened by further poison.

Second, regulation must be exercised to create a transparent, fairly accounted, and equitable economic system. This must begin by correcting the structures of the utility rate schedules under which the solar industry and Arizona’s citizens have so long strained.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Where Atoms Collide

Timing is everything.

A few days before Christmas it was announced that Arizona State University had secured a $40.8 million federal grant to develop a device to measure radiation in humans that could be used in the event of a nuclear accident.

It appears that this news of possible greater nuclear ‘security’ may have helped to encourage the Governor of our nation's sunniest state, Jan Brewer, to today proclaim her faith that, “[nuclear energy is] the wave of the future.” It is odd that she would employ a water metaphor when speaking of thirsty nuclear power generation in the middle of a desert suffering both its fourteenth year of drought and an undisciplined community depleting its ancient aquifer.

Even if enough puddles and piss could be squeegeed together to slake the thirst of additional Arizona nuclear generation before the next generation of citizens catches on to the evaporative theft, another stark fact remains. It will be at least a decade before a single electron appears from a new nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, the Arizona energy gap looms, the costs of existing traditional energy are increasing, and the financial capital to risk on building an expensive, new nuclear plant is draining quickly from Arizona’s fragile economy. Happily, early alerts to the ascendant economics and the other advantages of solar energy, and the calls for its rapid adoption are finally being heeded.

The Governor also expressed her wish to reduce "the hidden tax of regulation." In Arizona, it is not the “hidden tax of regulation” that has brought the state to this terrible juncture. Rather, it is the state’s long history of the repression of solar energy and energy conservation as well as hidden, regressive taxes that have reduced Arizona.

Brewer further said, "We cannot quash the next generation of entrepreneurs with petty rules and fines." At least, rules and fines are transparent. We must support the next generation of thoughtful creators with effective rules, transparency, and a habit of accountability.

ASU team gets grant for nuclear detection
Arizona Gov. Wants More Nuclear Power in State

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Its Back

solar tortoise

A story published yesterday provides a lens on yet another point of value for the generation of energy at or near the site where energy is consumed.

In Solar showdown in Calif. tortoises' desert home our interests in the survival of the threatened remnant population of the desert tortoise is contrasted against the intention of BrightSource Energy to use a portion of the tortoise’s habitat for a multi-megawatt solar thermal project.

Even without knowing the specifics of this project, there is likely to be immediate and ongoing impact to the fragile desert ecology from the energy plant’s construction and maintenance. If you have ever hiked distance in the quiet desert, you no doubt have come across the distinctive parallel grooves left by a rogue vehicle that could have been carved before the last rain, or decades before.

In addition to traffic for the plant, the possible addition of transmission lines, line upgrades and maintenance, and the eventual decommissioning will all impact the landscape for decades or centuries to come. Then, there are toehold issues, and the countervailing inefficiencies introduced by transmission losses.

The poor planning and design that have occurred for decades should not be exacerbated because of the convenient and narrowly profitable proximity of sky-slashing transmission lines. We have already invaded, plowed, scraped, paved, eroded, and sacrificed enough desertscape only so that we can sprawl away from each other. Let us let the tortoise crawl as it will.

There are many economically distressed desert dwellers who would be more than happy to earn a few dollars – and save many more – by welcoming a solar energy system to the roof. Let’s put solar on our own happy backs.

Other than perhaps a few especially delicate humans, no animals were harmed in the production of this article.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The year Two Thousand and Nine ended on, if not a high note, at least a hesitant quaver somewhere above middle C. After long years of repressing the value of solar energy and energy conservation through a scheme of regressive economic machinations, the statement from a utility executive in our nation’s sunniest state that “[the highest-consumption customers] drive our costs more”, is a welcome admission.

What orchestration might carry and continue that melodic line is only one of many challenging puzzles that must be solved in Twenty Ten. Here is the Rate Crimes current list of brain busters:

  1. The repressive rate schedules and the hidden, regressive taxes they create.
  2. The lack of performance requirements for solar modules in the U.S. market. The increasing risk of substandard modules threatens the solar industry’s domestic reputation.
  3. The solar industry’s reliance on incentives; especially when those incentive programs are regressive and catalyze further questionable market schemes.
  4. The education of a rapidly growing solar workforce. So far, the creation of a professional workforce has been haphazard, at best.
  5. Inadequate industry stewardship and oversight.

What do you think? Would you propose a different order of importance? What’s missing?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stealth Bomb!

Just when we thought we could relax and comfortably usher in the New Year a stealthy, between-the-holidays announcement slips out from the bomb bay doors.

On Monday, December 28th, Salt River Project proposed an increase in electricity prices about half of what it had originally proposed.

As reported in SRP proposes average $6 rate hike, the utility is proposing a 4.9 percent increase in electricity prices to pay for a new $1 billion coal-fired plant and for environmental controls at the coal-fired Coronado Generating Station.

As disappointing as it is to pay for a dirty, old coal plant – and a dirty, new coal plant – there may be a spark of hope in the announcement. SRP’s Chief Financial Executive, Mark Bonsall, is quoted as saying, "We have weighted the increase towards the highest-consumption customers because they drive our costs more.”

Please allow me to repeat that, "We have weighted the increase towards the highest-consumption customers because they drive our costs more.

Could it be? Did Rate Crimes just receive a small gift for the Holidays? Does this foretell greater things for the coming year? Will other utilities follow this example of leadership?

Oooh Emmm Geeee!