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Summit to explore Southwest's future as a solar superpower

March 08, 2012

The legal and policy structures necessary to foster solar energy development in the Southwest and propel Arizona to national prominence in the field is the focus of a conference to be hosted March 26-27 by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

“Arizona Solar Summit 2012: Breaking through the Barriers to a Solar Future in the Southwest” will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 26, and from 8:30 a.m. to noon, March 27, at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. Registration is $75 for general audiences and $125 for attorneys seeking CLE; visit for more information and to register.

“Arizona has the natural resources, the human capital and the legal structure to make this happen,” said Kris Mayes, faculty director of the College of Law’s Program on Law and Sustainability, housed in the Center for Law, Science & Innovation. “This conference is about making sure we advance the legal infrastructure in Arizona to create conditions that will allow us to really expand our solar energy capacity.”

Mayes, a Senior Sustainability Scholar in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, is a lead organizer of the conference, along with ASU LightWorks, ASU SkySong and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). ASU’s first Solar Summit, in August 2011, drew dozens of participants from government, academia, industry and technology to launch a network designed to address specific challenges that, if met, will move Arizona forward. The first conference established four working groups whose members will report on their recommendations during Solar Summit 2012. (For information about the first summit, visit

“When you talk to Arizonans, you quickly realize that this is a state that believes solar energy is its economic destiny,” said Mayes, former chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission and co-author of the state’s Renewable Energy Standard. “This conference is the next step in making that a reality, and we’re doing that by bringing together some of the best thinkers to continue what ASU started last August.”

Arizona Solar Summit 2012 will offer five panels during Monday’s schedule. Todd Hardy, ASU’s associate vice president for economic affairs and a participant in the 2011 summit, will moderate a panel of representatives from the Solar Summit working groups.

“Four working groups were formed at the 2011 Arizona Solar Summit to address the primary challenges we face in developing Arizona’s solar industry: Supply Chain and Workforce Development, Applied Research Collaborations and Pilot Projects, Policy and Finance, and Building and Strengthening the Narrative,” Hardy said. “Each of these working groups is actively engaged in identifying strategies that will be implemented to foster growth and development of the solar energy industry, on a national and regional scale.”

Gary Dirks, director of ASU LightWorks, who also participated in the first summit, will moderate the panel, “A solar super hub in the Southwest: Imagining Arizona and surrounding states as the exporters of solar energy to the rest of the nation.”

Dirks said the topic is critical because “this discussion will explore opportunity for a solar super hub in the Southwest. We will cover both the challenges and the benefits of becoming a state and region that can be the leader in producing and exporting solar energy. We hope to identify goals and next steps that will allow us to collectively reach our potential as a solar energy center.”

Mayes said the summit will be a standout for a number of reasons:

• Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will deliver the keynote address on Tuesday, March 27. Wellinghoff is expected to discuss how the federal government is helping the Southwest develop its solar potential.

• Five CEOs of solar energy firms will sit on a roundtable panel, following Wellinghoff’s remarks, to talk about the challenges facing their industry in 2012 and beyond.

• Public utilities commissioners from Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada will sit on the panel, “Getting along?: Imagining a strong regional future for solar, and the build-out of regional transmission needed to get us there.”

“Transmission is a big theme of this conference, and it’s a huge issue as we try to expand, so having these commissioners coming to Arizona to talk about these issues is a very big deal,” Mayes said. “By the same token, it’s critical to have these CEOs here to discuss where they see their industry going and also to delve into what they believe are the regulatory needs. This is an industry at a pivotal point and where we go from the legal and policy standpoints is going to be critical for them.”

The panel of solar CEOs will be moderated by Barry Broome, CEO and President of GPEC, another returning participant from the first summit.

“Arizona is indeed a solar leader,” Broome said. “However, the solar industry has seen dynamic changes over the past year, so understanding the corporate challenges facing these CEOs will be critical to not only maintaining our position as the ‘Solar Energy King,’ but also expanding into other areas of the clean economy.”

Conference organizers have tapped for consideration these three distinct scenarios for a bright solar future in the Southwest:

• a robust distributed generation future in which rooftop solar takes off, aided by a smarter grid and the development if micro-grids in cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Albuquerque and Denver

• a solar future driven by strong interregional cooperation among the states on transmission, leading to regional solar development

• a transformational solar future in which the Southwest becomes the solar hub of the nation, drive by interregional development of transmission and generation or the creation of a national Renewable Energy Corporation

Mayes will moderate the first panel of the day, “Is solar temporarily stuck: Immediate challenges to the development of solar energy in the Southwest and what is necessary to break through the logjam.”

“There’s a feeling out there that we are a little bit stuck in first gear and we need to do something from a legal standpoint to get out of it and get moving,” said Mayes, noting that tax credits, the build-out of transmission grids and support for state Renewable Portfolio Standards will be on the table for discussion.

The conference also will debut a 10-minute documentary film about solar energy development in Arizona, including a segment about the great progress in Gila Bend, a town about 70 miles southwest of the Phoenix metropolitan area. Town Manager Frederick Buss will join the panel of public utilities commissioners discussing the creation of a Southwestern market for renewable energy.

“Gila Bend is the little solar town that could,” Mayes said. “It’s a great story about a part of Arizona that’s’ been overlooked. You can walk into any restaurant in town and the waitresses are conversant in solar energy, and they have come to believe that solar is their future. We can learn a lot from them.”

A fifth panel is “Distributed generation goes the distance: Imagining a robust future for distributed generation in the Southwest,” moderated by Bud Annan, ASU’s senior advisor for solar energy.

Attorneys will be able to obtain up to 10 credits of Continuing Legal Education at the conference, said Mayes, noting it’s a good opportunity for anyone interested in practicing in renewable energy law. “When solar energy takes off, this will become a significant practice area for a lot of attorneys in Arizona and other states in the Southwest,” she said.