Like a rerun of the film Groundhog Day, fuel prices are again erupting and Arizonans feel victimized by the Big Oil, the utilities, the local gasoline station, so we shake our fists, write letters and go back to burning fossil fuels again.
Every so often, however, glimpses of the real villain are seen in the bathroom mirror. We have met the enemy, admitted Walt Kelly’s Pogo when lost in a swamp, and he is us. It is us because most of us act like the cheap fossil energy party is really over. To be fair, denial is easy because we have treated fossil fuels as income, not as capital, refusing to acknowledge their finiteness– and climate- changing impact.
Despite overpowering evidence that our energy future isn’t what it used to be, it is also us because like viewers of the film The Matrix we choose to believe in illusion. Stewart Udall says that were blind to act because we are conditioned to believe that humankind is perpetually on the threshold of discoveries that will magically solve our dilemmas.
The word crisis in Mandarin means both danger and opportunity. Once again amidst crisis opportunity looms. Many polls reveal that the public desires sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, biomass yet few walk their talk. It is a great irony, observes Amanda Ormond, an experienced energy policy expert in Tempe. People think there is nothing they can so they don’t demand action to move to a more sustainable energy future. Meantime, utility companies are making our choices for us and returning to coal-fired plants. Where is the voice of the Public?
Kendall Arey, a clean energy activist agrees: It we don’t communicate that we want clean, efficient, affordable energy, the only voices heard are old-world lobbyists with their own agendas.
States John Neville, President of Sustainable Arizona, the public needs to know that with current technology, the sunlight falling on just one-half of Maricopa County alone could produce enough energy to meet the needs of the entire country? So why does Arizona use solar power for just a tiny fraction of its energy needs? A good question for our elected representatives as elections near.
Along the way, citizens had best be leery of disingenuous ads. APS and SRP offer marketing campaigns promoting renewable energy. Truth be known, only a tiny fraction of their power sales, less than 1/2 a percent, comes from clean sources of energy.
However, the possibility for real change looms at the Arizona Corporation Commission, the body that sets rates for electric and water utilities. A vote is near. Now is the time to lobby the Commission to require utilities to build or purchase at least 2.5% of retail electric sales from renewable energy by 2010, 5% by 2015 and 15% by 2025 v, 1.1% in 2007. (602-542-2237)
Furthermore, APS customers have every right to request energy efficiency services to reduce their electricity bills. Because of a rate settlement, APS will spend about $20 million dollars on energy efficiency upgrades for businesses and homes. (1-800-253-9405).
The new reality states Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust is that if one has a dollar to invest in any kind of energy that would yield the best return, it would be in energy efficiency.
Another phone call could be to the Western Governors Association Phone (303)623-9378) that has established a goal to develop 30,000 MW of clean energy in the West by 2015 from resources such as energy efficiency, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and clean coal and advanced natural gas technologies. What will Arizona’s share be?
The U.S. Government may be docile, but momentous changes at the state, local and regional level are occurring under the radar: California’s Public Utility Commission will impose new standards for carbon dioxide emissions for investor-owned utilities which buy electricity from generating plants in Arizona, Utah and the West. Power in future must come from sources at least as clean as natural gas in other words, not coal. What if California refuses to buy power from eighteen coal-fired plants on the Colorado Plateau? Clean energy advocates dream of windmills, efficient buildings and solar electric homes. A safer energy future could be near if the Public awakens.
by James Bishop Jr., Sedona-based author and Newsweek’s energy editor in the 1970s.