Last week I attended the January meeting of the Governor's Solar Energy Task Force (Task Force). Arizona Governor Jan Brewer created the Task Force by executive order in March of last year. The executive order notes the existence of "various impediments" that have "hampered several promising, proposed solar projects" and the need for "greater effectiveness and efficiency in public processes and competitive taxation structures to advance development and meet the promise of solar energy in Arizona."
The Task Force is charged with identifying impediments to solar energy development, evaluating current incentive structures, and proposing appropriate reforms to public agency processes and tax structures. The governor's energy policy advisor, Leisa B. Brug, co-chairs the Task Force, together with James Strock, of Serve to Lead, Inc., a leadership and sustainability consulting organization. The Task Force is comprised of representatives of solar companies, utilities, and industry, including Abengoa Solar, SOLON, Suntech, APS, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Additionally, the group's meetings are open to the public, and the audience for the January meeting included representatives of other governmental entities, including the City of Tucson and the Arizona Corporation Commission.
At the end of last year, the Task Force released its written report of findings and recommendations for 2011. In this white paper, the Task Force identifies the streamlining of permitting processes as "the first step to enhance solar activity in Arizona." The report released last month focuses on residential solar permitting; the Task Force plans two more white papers to address permitting for the commercial and utility-scale market segments.
The Task Force advises the standardization of permitting process across three metrics: costs, approval time frames, and submittal requirements. The white paper provides specific recommendations as to each of these metrics for both photovoltaic installations and solar water heaters. The Task Force also plans the development of a "best practices" permitting guidance document. Authorities having jurisdiction will be able to adopt these best practices to move toward uniformity. Additionally, the Task Force recommends the creation of a "Renewable Energy Rapid Response" or "R3" team. The R3 team would be comprised of representatives of federal, state, and local government entitues having authority over various aspects of solar energy development and would work to facilitate intergovernmental coordination and elimination of permitting redundancies. The Task Force's report included a draft executive order creating the R3 team, but it has not yet been signed.
At its January meeting, the Task Force also discussed the $708,992 grant recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to the Governor's Office of Energy Policy. The grant is part of the federal "SunShot Initiative – Rooftop Solar Challenge." The Rooftop Solar Challenge is an initiative by the Energy Department to drive reduction in costs for rooftop photovoltaic systems. Co-grantees of the award include the City of Flagstaff, City of Phoenix, City of Tucson, ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, and SmartPower. These entities will work toward identifying best practices in finance, permitting, and zoning to achieve voluntary statewide uniformity. The initiative will also drive adoption of an online system allowing for over-the-counter/same-day permit review. The participants in the Rooftop Solar Challenge will be able to build off of the Task Force's work to help make Arizona the premier location for solar energy investment.