Saturday, August 29, 2009

Late to School

Arizona Late to School

For many years, advocates for solar energy in Arizona have encouraged schools to adopt solar energy. For several reasons, schools are excellent candidates for solar energy. School hours of operation coincide with the hours of sunshine. Schools are closed during the hottest months when the highest demand for energy occurs. School energy systems are responsive to load balancing and other energy management strategies that further enhance the value of solar energy. School buildings frequently provide nearly ideal sites for solar energy systems. The low, broad roofs not only provide ample area, but they also provide a secure, yet visible platform on which to showcase the technology for our young and their parents. What a lesson! Perhaps the greatest benefit is that the schools could avoid paying for electricity at the high and rapidly increasing commercial rates they now endure.

Sadly, when it comes to schools, Arizona’s solar advocates (including myself) have been stymied for many years. We have been deterred by the arcane and highly political funding and allocation system for schools. The excellent returns of a low-risk investment in solar energy have been a surprisingly hard sell to school administrators and boards. However, some leaders are seeing the light, or have been newly inspired by Arizona’s rapidly increasing energy costs.

Just this past week, Shari Zara, the Chief Financial Officer of the Queen Creek Unified School District filed a utility complaint with the Arizona Corporation Commission requesting that the Commission reclassify schools as residences for the purposes of the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) rebate program. As Ms. Zara states, “Recently it has become apparent that due to the overwhelming interest in the commercial solar sector, it is highly uncertain whether any rebate incentive funds will be available for the systems proposed for Arizona's schools.” The REST divides funding between the commercial and residential sectors. The commercial program is becoming rapidly subscribed while the residential program lags.

While the REST is an important first step towards a solar future for Arizona, it fails miserably at delivering an equitable distribution of the funds that are contributed to by all Arizonans and collected by the utilities. Like all our first steps, it has been tentative and not without challenge and falter. Still, confidence is gained with each step forward and with the growing consensus that an energy gap is looming.

Every Arizona school should have had on-site solar energy many years ago. Ensuring that all of Arizona’s schools have a source of funding to help them acquire solar energy would benefit all Arizonans.

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