Last week’s solar summit taught attendees many things about taking Arizona’s solar industry to the next level.

One of them is that a large dose of political will will be needed to bring our game up to the level of the rays that inundate our state nearly every day of the year.

The other is that there is no bit of information in the industry that may not be reduced to an indecipherable acronym. Fortunately, there were snacks.

This summit is the second major solar conference in a year, and a third is promised for this coming November. If Arizona does not leapfrog to the head of the solar pack, it won’t be for lack of effort. (More on all the summit activity is here.)

For a great roundup of last week’s Summit, read Patrick O’Grady’s article in the Phoenix Business Journal. (And follow him on Twitter here.)

The conference started with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton raising the question on attandees’ minds: How can we advance the solar industry in a constrained-policy world? And then he teased some news: He will soon announce a “mayoral pledge of sustainability” with “tough and stringent standards,” which he will ask fellow Valley mayors to sign on to.

Professor Kris Mayes

What followed were a series of panels of experts, some from industry and others from government, include the Arizona Corporation Commission or other states’ complementary agencies.

Underscoring the tentative and precarious nature of solar in the United States, each panel was titled with the gerund “Imagining”: “Imagining a strong regional future for solar,” “Imagining Arizona as a solar exporter,” “Imagining a robust future.”

The conference organizer, ASU’s Kris Mayes, pulled together a talented array of people to discuss these possible futures. And the keynote—Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—defines what it means for a true subject-matter expert to head an agency. His speech was the perfect combination of rousing encouragement and wonkish expertise.

FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff delivers the keynote

In regard to one thing Mayes had promised—that lawyers would find many valuable law-practice channels in a solar future—the jury’s still out. Recall that she said in a press release in advance of the Summit, “When solar energy takes off, this will become a significant practice area for a lot of attorneys in Arizona and other states in the Southwest.”

I did seek out two speakers on that very aspect.

John Jimison and Bill White are part of Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, based in Washington DC. (Jimison is a lawyer and the Managing Director of the Energy Future Coalition; White is Senior Vice President at climate/energy firm David Gardiner & Associates LLC.)

I asked both men where a lawyer seeking practice possibilities in solar should look. Going forward, what are the important legal topics in solar?

Jimison noted that the industry contains all of the legal issues that you might find in regard to any utility: siting, real estate, takings questions.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith

More broadly, White said, an area of contention may be the Federal Power Act, which requires protection of ratepayers against unjust rates. As solar demonstrates higher and higher return on investment, is there an action to be had against utilities that do not make a solar investment, though it could well result in lower rates?

Jimison added another legal question: Can California legally deny the importation of “foreign” (included Arizona) energy, such as solar power?  Does that violate the Commerce Clause?

Are any of those topics we should follow in Arizona Attorney Magazine? Please let me know what you think.

As if to punctuate those questions, a lunchtime video ran that showed the huge solar-energy leaps made by the town of Gila Bend, Arizona.

I don’t have a copy of that video. But here is a video about the town that touts itself (to no visible disagreement) as the solar capital of Arizona.

The challenges remain great. Just yesterday, I came across this story about solar in the sunniest state. It points out that far more people in Arizona use firewood as their sole source of energy than use solar for that purpose. Yes, firewood.

Congratulations to Kris Mayes and all the Summit organizers.

More photos from the Summit are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

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