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Guest Editorial
by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona's 8th Congressional District

Solar is the Bridge to Our Future

  

U.S. Representative Gabrielle GiffordsThe Middle East is synonymous with oil—a critical natural resource that has transformed the nations of that region into some of the wealthiest on Earth.

My home state of Arizona has no oil to speak of but is blessed with a natural resource that in my opinion is even better: abundant sunshine.

Just as oil was a passport to wealth in the 20th century, I believe the sun will be a gateway to prosperity in the 21st.

With more than 300 days of sunshine every year, Arizona and the neighboring states straddle some of the best areas in the world for solar power.  We have the potential to be a global center for the production of clean, renewable electricity—a commodity that is certain to be in high demand in the decades to come.

As a member of Congress, I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night thinking about the significant challenges facing our country.  Among the greatest of these are:

  • How do we create good jobs and strengthen our economic competitiveness?
  • How do we ensure our national security in a dangerous world?
  • How do we protect our natural environment—especially from the threat of catastrophic climate change?
Rep. Giffords on rooftop with consultant.
Congresswoman Giffords participates in a rooftop solar consultation.
Photo courtesy U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
 
 

The reason I get so excited about solar power is that it offers a viable solution, at least in part, to all of these major challenges: economic competitiveness, energy independence, and climate change. Indeed, my support for the American Clean Energy and Security Act is rooted in the need to address these critical issues.

Because of its tremendous potential, promoting solar power has been a top priority for me ever since I arrived in Congress in 2007.  I never miss an opportunity to advance this issue, whether through legislation, public education or personal advocacy.

But what would it take for solar to really become a major power source in the United States?  Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a report outlining how we could generate 20 percent of our power from wind by 2030.  What if we were to adopt a comparable target for solar?  What would it take to achieve that? 

Well, over the next two decades we would need to install at least 2,200 times as much solar power capacity as we did last year! The industry would have to sustain an annual growth rate of 33 percent for the next 20 years.

In other words, our future growth would have to dwarf our past accomplishments.  That’s a significant challenge in its own right.

But significant solar expansion also would challenge us to increase our grid integration capabilities, develop new energy storage systems and upgrade solar financing mechanisms.  And we would need to train a solar workforce that can deploy and integrate solar into existing and new infrastructure.

Civano with solar
While solar hot water heating is standard on most homes in the Tucson, Arizona, community of Civano, many homes also feature solar photovoltaic panels.
Photo courtesy Community of Civano, LLC.
 
  

Meeting such enormous logistical challenges is difficult, but not impossible.  Our nation has risen to incredible challenges before.  But it will require more than just effective individual companies.  It will require coordination across the entire solar community, including private companies, academia, non-profits, and government.  We must take our collaborative efforts to a new level.

The good news is that solar policy has made some remarkable advances in recent years, despite the industry’s limited resources.  This has happened because solar offers a real solution that speaks to today’s needs in a uniquely effective way.  Nevertheless, from my vantage point in Congress, I can see that continued forward momentum will require a substantial and coordinated advocacy effort. Thankfully, solar supporters are passionate about their cause. 

We must draw on that passion to overcome some significant hurdles.  First among these is raising awareness of the true potential of solar power.  Few of my congressional colleagues really believe that solar is capable of making a substantial contribution to our energy needs anytime in the near future.  This must change.

People need to understand that solar technology works, it is affordable, and it is in our national interest.  They also need to understand that without supportive policy, our nation will fall behind foreign competitors in what is poised to be a major 21st century industry, just as we have in so many others, such as textiles, automobiles, flat-panel displays, and nuclear technology.

My staff and I are working hard to spread the news about solar:

  • Since 2007 I have introduced or cosponsored numerous pieces of solar legislation, including workforce training, grid-integration studies, and incentive tax credits for manufacturing and deployment.
  • My district office gives free “Solar 101” seminars across southern Arizona to help people understand how to take advantage of the new incentives and go solar themselves. 
  • I talk almost weekly with solar leaders across our state to coordinate efforts with them to educate Arizona business and community leaders.
Solar array installation at Nellis Air Force Base.

 

The solar field at Nellis Air Force Base is comprised of more than 72,000 photovoltaic panels. The array is expected to produce more than 25 percent of the base's electricity.
Photo by Robert Valenca, courtesy U.S. Air Force.
  

And Arizona is an example of a state moving forward with solar: 

  • Applications have been submitted to develop solar projects on more than half a million acres of federal land in Arizona.
  • The governor recently signed a manufacturing tax credit into law, prompting numerous companies to explore locating in the state.
  • The statewide Renewable Energy Tariff is generating millions of dollars for utilities to use in developing solar projects to meet their renewable energy requirements.

President Obama recently visited the Southwest and toured the vast photovoltaic array at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.  The base is home to the largest PV installation in the western hemisphere:  72,000 panels on 140 acres generating 14 megawatts of clean, sustainable power.  After his tour, the President spoke of the “power of clean, renewable energy to build a new, firmer foundation for economic growth.”

He is absolutely right.  Solar power has the potential to be a core solution to many of our largest policy challenges and increase our prosperity in the process.  But to realize this potential, solar needs a coordinated advocacy effort.  It is time for this fragmented industry, and those who support solar energy, to come together and speak with one voice: “Solar is ready. The time for solar is now.”

  
 

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords is in her second term representing southern Arizona's District 8 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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Comments

Posted by Kurt EdelmanSeptember 28, 2009 - 05:34 pm
Honorable Representative Giffords:
I read, with interest, both the guest editorial and the Congressional Bill.
I believe that the local power distributors, and electrical coops need to show their commitment to this effort in finding ways, now, to allow solar and wind generated power to flow back to the utility, at a rate which provides some realistic incentive to take the customers unused power and return it to the grid. We are not talking 'off grid'installations, instead, for those consumers who have hesitated to invest the sizeable sums to both power their homes and feed back unused power to the utility, now is the time for the utilities to provide the incentive in realistic return credits. The governing agencies in the AZ are the ones to mandate the local co-ops with new regulatory laws.
California may be a prime example with consumer produced power feeding back at the cost of using the power from the grid.
As most of Arizona has the solar exposure to lead the nation, what are the agencies waiting for?
Representative Giffords, for your plan to be effective, all parties in the equation must step up and share the burden and benefit. Consumers will invest when they see a purposeful and realistic move to help offset the cost of their generated power by the local utility.
You have my support for the Bill.

Posted by Jim BreitingerSeptember 28, 2009 - 09:39 am
Congresswoman Giffords,

Thank you for your hard work in this vitally important area. I am posting your article at the STAND FOR LESS Facebook page. SFL is a San Diego-based environmental campaign that among other things stands for less imported oil, and more solar energy. More at http://www.standforless.com/blog Cheers, Jim

Posted by Leo OBrienSeptember 28, 2009 - 08:09 am
I agree with most of the comments regarding solar energy. My concern with solar and wind generated electricity is the 'eye polution' the turbines and panels create. If we could subsidize and 'incentivize' private industry to develop higher efficiency, less visible, energy producing equipment that would be a positive step towards relieving our dependancy on fossil fuels. Polluting our mountains and valleys with fields and hillsides of ugly solar collectors and/or wind turbines is as disturbing as seeing a forest that has been 'clear cut'.

Posted by Simmons BuntinSeptember 27, 2009 - 08:50 pm
Thanks for your comment on Gabrielle Gifford's guest editorial, Bob. If you read the caption in question again, you'll notice that
it says that solar hot water heaters are standard in most homes in the community of Civano,
not overall in Tucson. Your quote below doesn't include the full sentence
(note the "the" before "Tucson, Arizona").

Posted by Bob MercerSeptember 27, 2009 - 07:45 pm
Honorable Congresswoman Giffords,

In the cutline of the third photo in your message you state, "...solar hot water heating is standard on most homes in the Tucson, Arizona..." What is the source of your information? I believe that statement is totally in error and, if you continue to say this, then you need to back it up by citing your information source.

Posted by DebSeptember 26, 2009 - 09:14 am
Honorable Representative Giffords,
First of all I want to thank you for all that you do.
It is thrilling to know you are there for Arizona getting into the solar industry. I only wish things were going faster for us. I do not understand why something so obvious has not been given a priority for this state. Solar is our way of the future for Arizona's new green jobs, and getting off the oil grid as well as giving us the opportunity to use less coal for creating electricity.
I vision the roofs of every building including homes having this wonderful source of energy one day in a more perfect world of possibilities. I would donate the roof of my home to be covered with panels to be able to switch off the grid.

Posted by Roger O PorterSeptember 26, 2009 - 08:07 am
I agree with your efforts and comments about solar energy. However, more must be done to promote solar energy in southern Arizona. Tucson and surrounding area should be the solar energy capital of the world, which will require significant effort by the resources we already have in place; the universities, local, state, and federal government, and the flegling solar energy companies that are already carving out a foothold. Please redouble your efforts to bring significant federal support for solar research to our area.

Posted by Mike MartynSeptember 26, 2009 - 06:37 am
I totally agree with David Marts' comment about the Cap and Trade bill. This would only hinder our progress toward energy independence. Solar, wind, biofuel (algae generated), geothermal and other renewable energy technologies need to ramp up as other evergy sources ramp down. This cannot be done with a light switch (like Cap and Trade) but must be done gradually. I support and agree with putting more effort into developing renewable energy sources but the Cap and Trade bill is not the the way.

Posted by Lea CallahanSeptember 26, 2009 - 04:19 am
Please add my e-mail address to your subscription list?
Thank you

Posted by TimSeptember 25, 2009 - 07:38 pm
If environmentalists won't let solar panels in a dry lake bed in California's Mojave Desert, where will they let them be put?

Posted by HowardSeptember 25, 2009 - 06:10 pm
Serious Solar energy initiatives could help put many Americans back to work, increase tax revenues, greatly reduce unemployment, reduce foreign oil dependency, significantly reduce our nations carbon footprint... Wisely investing in solar, wind, alternative energy initiatives could have a domino effect, igniting a whole new U.S. economic expansion.

Posted by maureen aitesSeptember 25, 2009 - 05:02 pm
Honerable Representative Giffords:
I totally support your efforts for solar and wind power. It is also wonderful to know the extent to which the armed services are doing behind the obvious to keep us safe.
In addition or in place of, I would like to see a bill that recinds the rights of mining companies to have the right without equivication, to bulldoze down what makes our State unique and beautiful. Thanks for you good work

Posted by JR ThompsonSeptember 25, 2009 - 02:36 pm
Thank-you so much for getting out in front of the solar energy issue. I can't wait to see some progress made on the ground in AZ. I don't know why we've let countries such as Germany take the lead. I'd like to see an alternative-energy Cabinet post created if that would help. We can't afford to waste any more time on this project.

Posted by David L. MartsSeptember 25, 2009 - 02:16 pm
Honorable Represetative Giffords,
I am truly thrilled that congress is on board to promoting Solar energy with insentives and tax credits etc. I will be happy to see this project succeed in freeing our country from dependence on forign oil. However if the Cap and Trade bill passes it will be devistating to the American consumers. By Obamas own words " it will raise the cost of energy consumption greatly" surely this is not the way to get started. This bill is getting the Government's foot in the door to being in control of all the main energy sources.
The Government is getting TOO big now with control of the banks and financial institutions as well as the Auto industry. Where is it going to STOP ???
It has to be NOW...
David L. Marts For a totally free future for America

Posted by Kathleen DaleckeSeptember 25, 2009 - 01:19 pm
I'm totally behind your solar energy efforts. I truly believe this is an initiative that is way overdue. Keep up the good work.

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Resources
 
 

Mobilizing for a Solar Future: Presentation by Rep. Giffords to the National Academy of Sciences

Rep. Giffords' Solar Energy News and Resources

Rep. Giffords Website

 

 
     
    
  
 
     
    
  
 
   

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