Which Southwest governor said it's a state goal to "become the solar capitol of America … and I think we're on our way"?

Not Jan Brewer. The most generous thing you can say about her stand on solar energy is, she's not against it. Brewer is too busy cutting services and overtaxing our police by sending them out on immigrant hunts to give serious attention to our clean energy future.

No, the statement came from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. I heard it on CNN. The story was about New Mexico's aggressive courting of the clean energy industry and focused on a new complex of buildings in Albuquerque owned by Germany's Schott Solar. The plant makes solar cells and related technology, and they're selling their wares as fast as they can produce them. Schott and similar companies have added 2,500 jobs to New Mexico's economy.

Richardson is letting the world know his state is open for solar business, and he's backing up his pitch with tax incentives. His laser focus on clean energy is paying dividends.

After all, if you're a solar industry looking to set up shop in the Sun Belt, which are you more likely to choose – a state like New Mexico welcoming you with open arms where you'll enjoy the economic advantages of joining a thriving solar community, or a state like Arizona whose enthusiasm for solar is cloudy at best? Factor in our closed state parks and rest stops along with our last-in-the-nation school funding, and the choice is obvious.

To her credit, our Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is working tirelessly in Congress to bring solar energy and related industry to Arizona, but she can't speak for the entire state or maintain our infrastructure. Only the governor, backed by the legislature, can do that.

The problem is, Arizona Republicans think nuclear power is sexier than solar. And leading the "Nuke, Baby, Nuke!" charge is our own Sen. Al Melvin.

Building more nuclear plants in Arizona makes no sense, since they use huge quantities of water. They're better suited for wet, cloudy states, not dry, sun-drenched Arizona where solar is a natural fit.

But that's not how Melvin sees it. At an April legislative forum, Melvin said he wants Arizona to be "the most atomic friendly state in the nation" (Some consultant must have told him the word "nuclear" is politically radioactive, so he substituted "atomic" whenever he could).

He wants to build three or four more nuclear power plants the size of the Phoenix area's gigantic Palo Verde nuclear power station.

And if Melvin has his way, Arizona will become the nuclear waste dump for the nation — though he prefers to use the term "atomic energy recycling," because it sounds cleaner than "nuclear waste dump."

One thing you have to say about Melvin; he thinks big. He maintains we can make so much money hauling and storing the country's radioactive waste, it will "fund all of public education in the state in our lifetime and the lifetime of our children."

Think what that means. The state spends about $4 billion a year on K-12 education. Try to imagine how many trucks filled with nuclear waste will have to rumble down our crumbling highways, then dump their cargo, which will be radioactive for hundreds of years, somewhere in Arizona to generate $4 billion a year in taxes.

The mind reels.

Arizona's clear future is in solar energy. We should be creating an educated work force to supply employees for this clean, high-tech industry. We should be courting industry so we can create and manufacture what we need right here in state, then using what we make to set up solar farms and outfit homes and businesses with solar systems.

We have the people, the sun and the land to become the solar capitol of America, a title we should not cede to New Mexico, California or any other state.

All we need is the will.


Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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