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Earth Notes: Arizona’s Coming Renewable Energy Buildout

In 2015 the EPA issued a Clean Power Plan directing states to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Under the plan, for example, Arizona will need to cut annual carbon emissions from 40 to 30 million tons by 2030.

Fortunately, the Southwest is blessed with almost endless sunshine, and with bountiful wind generating potential in some areas. And with more than 1.8 million acres of federal, state trust, and private lands suitable for solar and wind development in Arizona alone, there’s no shortage of space.

Arizona is currently second among states with a cumulative installed capacity of 2,000 megawatts of solar power. That’s about half what the giant Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station produces. But with just 9 percent of Arizona’s net electricity generated from renewable resources there’s still a way to go.

Local rooftop and community solar projects are important components of the sustainable energy equation. But a recent study from the nonprofit Sonoran Institute suggests that the state can meet its federal target effectively with utility-scale renewable energy.

Fifteen giant solar projects currently in the advanced permitting stages have the potential to double the state’s solar generating capacity. They’re proposed mostly for central and western Arizona, where year-round sun shines on open lands that can accommodate big projects.

If these projects go online as planned in a few years, they’ll reduce the state’s carbon emissions by around 2.5 million tons a year. That should enable Arizona to meet its interim Clean Power Plan goals by 2022.

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