Clean energy: Why it matters for Arizona

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Apr 2, 2019, 9:52 AM | Updated: Apr 22, 2019, 8:39 am


Phoenix is the hottest city and Maricopa County has the fifth worst air quality in the nation. A decades-long drought has created a near crisis for our water supplied by the Colorado River. Each of these is driven by a warming climate. These are some of the unintended consequences to burning coal, oil and gas to fuel prosperity in Arizona and around the world over the past century. It’s time now to transition to clean energy and avert the worst consequences of a changing climate.

Arizona is well positioned to make the change. Arizona already produces the second largest amount of solar energy in that nation. Once renewable energy like solar and wind was too expensive to compete, today it costs less than coal and is comparable to natural gas. One challenge is when the sun goes down and wind doesn’t blow. People want reliable power, and that is why we rely on dirtier sources of energy like coal and gas. Batteries are one piece of the solution, whether in a home with its own solar panels or large-scale battery farms, they can temporarily store energy. Other forms of storage will be needed to go beyond hours into days and weeks.

Fortunately, Arizona is also well positioned to make the transition because we have the nations largest nuclear plant. Nuclear energy is the single largest source of clean energy today and a bridge to a clean energy future.

The Nature Conservancy published research that shows one third of the carbon emission reduction that needs to occur globally can be reached through natural solutions. In Arizona, natural solutions include restoring the health of our Ponderosa forests. The Nature Conservancy is leading an effort to transform the way our forests are managed to accelerate the thinning of overgrown forests and reduce the risk of large-scale fires that threaten communities and release large amounts of carbon. Our research shows thinning forests allows the remaining trees to grow faster and bigger and can replace the carbon lost by thinning. These forests are also an important source of water for our rivers and cities.

In urban areas the largest source of CO2 or carbon is transportation, the burning of fossil fuels as we drive. It also is the major source of the pollutant ozone. This can be bad for the health or children, the elderly and anyone who is active outdoors. The obvious solution is to convert to electric powered cars. Major car manufacturers are betting that within a decade, electric cars will begin to replace gas powered cars as costs come down and driving range increases. They are cleaner, quieter and easier to maintain.

A natural solution in our urban areas is trees. On a summer day in Phoenix it can be 10 degrees hotter in an area that lacks vegetation than an area that has trees and other plants. The Nature Conservancy is working with partners to tackle urban heat using natural solutions. Research shows that increasing tree cover in our communities and neighborhoods to 25% can reduce temperatures by 10 degrees compared to not having that vegetation. Trees also clean up the air, an added benefit. It is not just any tree anywhere, but the right kind of tree in the right place. Planting low water use trees on the south side of a house can also reduce energy costs.

Clean energy and natural climate solutions can clean up our air, improve our quality of life, reduce the risk to our water supply and help us avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It can also create jobs and be a central part of our prosperity moving forward.

Many companies are making availability of clean, affordable energy part of their decision making on locating or expanding their businesses. It saves them money and is part of their company commitment to be a sustainable business.

Arizona is a good place to make and test electric vehicles. Two new electric car companies are planning to open in Arizona in the next year. Other companies will be unable to come to places like Maricopa County because the high levels of ozone violate air quality limits which means they can’t get a permit to operate or expand. Advanced manufacturing could be a very important part of our future economy if we can clean up our air.

It will be a journey to get to a 100% clean energy. It will take new technology, innovation and creative solutions to reach that aspirational goal. It will require working across sectors- energy production, transportation, energy efficiency standard, and of course natural solutions. And it will take all of us – every citizen – to insist we move forward in a way that benefits the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Currently Arizona does not have an energy plan. It needs a clean energy plan to guide our actions. This is also something everyone one of us can contribute to in the choices we make that effect our energy use, the vehicles we drive, and the trees we plant around our homes and neighborhoods.

This isn’t about saving the planet; this is about saving ourselves.

Thanks to environmental non-profits such as The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, the efforts they make from the ground up support a healthy environment for the long term.  To stay connected with the efforts to preserve these environments, check out to stay in the loop with on-the-ground initiatives, activities and volunteer efforts for clean energy in Arizona.

The Nature Conservancy


Patrick Graham, Former State Director of the Arizona Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Interim Executive Director, Arizona Thrives

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Clean energy: Why it matters for Arizona