Three Democrats running for seats in the Arizona Legislature from District 26 are presentable candidates.

At a Clean Elections debate at Flowing Wells High School, appointed Rep. Nancy Young Wright, House hopeful Don Jorgensen and Senate candidate Cheryl Cage were poised, eloquent and played well to the home crowd. Democrats go to Clean Elections debates. It’s a disadvantage to the Republicans, in this case House hopefuls Vic Williams and Marilyn Zerull, and Senate candidate Al Melvin.

The three Democrats are in lockstep on many issues, among them funding for education, diversification of the Arizona tax base, the promotion of solar energy and the dismissal of nuclear power. On their behalf, the Arizona Democratic Party has distributed literature encouraging a “vote to jumpstart our economy with sunlight and renewable energy.” A vote for the Democrats, the piece argues, would help to “create high-paying jobs in Southern Arizona, lower gas prices, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and invest in research to keep our universities on the cutting edge of renewable energy.”

All those opposed to the development of solar energy, raise your hands. As we thought. No one’s opposed to that source, particularly in Southern Arizona. Yes, solar could create high-paying jobs, and keep universities on the cutting edge, and eventually contribute to America’s demand for electricity.

Less obvious is what the Arizona Legislature can do to encourage solar energy, and how solar energy is going to reduce the price of gasoline and cut America’s use of foreign oil.

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has supported, and applauded, federal solar energy tax credits, which are in place for the next eight years. Those credits should help drive solar investment. But, ultimately, markets drive investment. Solar energy will gain a foothold when it is price-competitive with other sources of electric power.

America uses foreign oil largely to move. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 96 percent of American transportation energy needs came from petroleum products in 2007. Two percent comes from natural gas, 2 percent from renewables.

Solar power isn’t going to reduce the price of gasoline any time soon, if at all. Those energy sectors have very little overlap.

The three Democrats have strong arguments against nuclear power plants in Southern Arizona, and that’s fine. It’s more difficult to reconcile their positions with those of Barack Obama. The Democratic presidential candidate comes from Illinois, more dependent on nuclear power than any other state, and he has said nuclear power fits into the bigger energy equation for this country.

While Obama does not believe nuclear power is the “optimal source,” he has said “I don’t think that we can take nuclear power off the table. What we have to make sure of is that we have the capacity to store waste properly and safely …”

Nuclear power does belong on the table. So does solar. Both sources can address rising demand for electrical energy. Will solar energy cut dependence on foreign oil and lower gas prices, as the Democratic Party claims? Not likely. And not anytime soon.

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