The Solar City

topic posted Fri, January 22, 2010 - 8:35 PM by  Laurence
Tucson’s Ward II councilman and vice mayor Rodney Glassman may be just a professional politician, but a lot of voters are going to like what he did in response to Bob Oldfather’s excitement about distinguishing Tucson as “The Solar City.” The idea is to have people identify the city with something besides hot pavement, the way they associate San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge, hippies, hills, and really rich folks, or Houston with oil riches and space, or Las Vegas with entertainment. You get the idea.

On Friday (01/22/10), the vice mayor hosted a lunch (sandwiches donated by QuickTrip, before anyone gets ideas) for about 100 people from small business, big business, utilities, and city government to talk about what it might take to get Tucson to be known as “The Solar City.”

“Optics Valley,” which is how the city is currently known in technical circles, is apparently not catchy enough.

Anyway, the U.S. Department of Energy gave Glassman some free signs that say “Solar America City”, and he was looking for a way to unload them.

Bob Oldfather, of Bookman’s fame, is either Glassman’s inspiration or his tool. In any case, Oldfather, looking like me in his trademark black fedora (How bad could he be?) gave an excited five-minute address on the marvels of being from somewhere known as something besides a retirement graveyard. One of the better ideas I heard come from him is that of giving tax incentives to relocating manufacturers if and only if they agree to offer their products to locals at wholesale.

So Glassman is setting up three committees to meet once a month at the Ward II offices as follows:

The Marketing Committee, chaired initially by Bob Oldfather, will meet and make stuff up on Thursday, February 11 at a time to be determined so that most working people cannot attend.

The Policy Committee, in charge of “getting government out of the way,” according to Glassman, will be chaired in part by Bruce Plenck, Tucson’s Chief of Terribly Inefficient and Expensive Green Projects (aka solar coordinator), meeting at Ward II February 25 at a time to be determined.

The Business Committee, which will be essentially an arm of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunity (TREO), will be chaired by the team of Doug Martin and Dave Welsch, Welsch being the Man from TREO who famously said, “We need to buy a lot of solar products to get solar manufacturers to relocate here. It’s what they expect,” meeting February 18.

Tucson is already a favorite of the Department of Energy, which recently awarded the city a $389,000 grant to create a solar “one stop shop” plus those little political party favors, the signs that say “Solar America City.”

In the private sector, Bookman’s offers free recharging stations for electric cars. Someone in the audience innovated about making them solar. (At around 20¢ per kiloWatt-hr vs. 3¢ for coal, that’s expecting a lot from Bob Oldfather.)

A representative of Global Solar Energy, a Tucson company that makes photovoltaic panels, commented that some of Tucson’s competitors, like San Antonio, Texas, are paying up to 27¢ per kiloWatt-hr for electricity from solar panels (running meters backward).

My neighbor to the right, John Grabo, University of Arizona director of marketing and international programs, had this to say after listening to a selection of gushing rants about solar , “What makes us different? Everyone wants a piece of solar. I haven’t heard about anything that makes Tucson unique.” Several people, including Grabo, suggested broadening the concept to include rainwater harvesting, gray water plumbing, and other greeness, making Tucson “The Sustainable City.” We’ll have to wait and see what the committees make of it.
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