Paul's Note - September 20, 2019

Progress has continued on the solar panels in the parking lot at the Ward 2 office. The crew was doing some work inside the building this week. The work on the panels and connecting it to the building’s electrical system will be done this weekend. Those of you that come to the office will see that the fence will be down sometime next week.

The only thing that we will be waiting for at that point is what is called the revenue meter, the meter that allows us to connect to the existing power grid. That should be installed over the next six weeks by Tucson Electric Power. Then, we will be able to turn the panels on and Ward 2 will run on power from the sun.

In related news this week, Tucson unveiled its first electric bus. Well, a demonstration bus anyhow. The no-emissions bus (made by American union labor) was shown off at an event on Wednesday morning. Soon, we’ll have one on the road as a pilot program, and we hope to purchase three through a grant from the federal government as well as Tucson Electric Power. The buses will replace the oldest of our bio-diesel buses that are still on the road.

There are about 30 cities nationwide that have electric buses as part of its fleet, and it’s good to see Tucson in on this growing movement early.

An electric bus is more expensive than a traditional bus, even our compressed natural gas buses, but my colleague Paul Durham estimates that a single electric bus will pay for itself within eight years due to easier maintenance and fuel savings.

As welcome as this step is, it’s not a perfect solution yet. Gillig, the company that makes the bus, states that the range is 150 miles, and says that is given as a “conservative” estimate. That number is likely closer to the actual range of the bus here in Tucson, given that the battery will have to run air conditioning as well as the engine.

That sort of range means that the bus would have to be taken off the road and charged for several hours when the battery gets low. So, at least initially, these buses will be put on express routes where they can be taken off the road to charge in midday hours.

I’m not as worried about these issues because they will be solved by technology. Batteries are getting better even over the course of months. I’m confident that within five years, we’ll have an electric bus that has the range of a traditional gasoline powered one.

The other issue, however, is that electric power is not totally a clean source yet.  Yes, an electric bus isn’t spewing exhaust, but somewhere a smoke stack is. As we move to electric vehicles, it’s important to ask if we are just moving the fumes elsewhere.

I give TEP a bit of stick for their solar policies, but they can claim 558 megawatts in the grid from renewable sources, mostly solar (117 of that is from residential rooftop solar). That’s progress, but it’s only a fraction of the power they produce. They project that by 2032, they will be at 26% renewables, which will still be lower than the amount they hope to get from coal at that point (38%, down from well over half now). I applaud their move away from coal, but I’d like to see some faster movement in the direction of solar by our state’s utilities.

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As I write this note, millions of people around the world have participated in the Youth Climate strike. This is happening all over the world (New York, London, Paris, Munich, everyone is talking about climate change, as M might say), and also here in the Old Pueblo at our own Presidio Park. Anyone who lived through this past July, the hottest on record, should know that it is. Tucson is one of the best examples of our crisis, and I hope to continue to work on making us the best example of a solution.