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Solar Power Advocates Undeterred By Trump's Climate Policies

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Next, we're going to Arizona where renewable energy is huge. It's also a red state that went for Trump in last year's election. Will Stone of member station KJZZ in Phoenix reports on reaction there to the president's move to undo the nation's climate change policies.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: When news came down that Trump was rolling back the so-called Clean Power Plan, Joy Seitz of American Solar & Roofing had a pithy sales pitch for her company's Facebook followers.

JOY SEITZ: Come up with your own Clean Power Plan, and go solar today. You have a little utility plant on your home.

STONE: She's talking about a rooftop solar system, what will soon feed power into the home installer Jose Leon is scrambling on top of in this growing suburb west of Phoenix.

JOSE LEON: I've been here three years. But I'm still - every day, I'm learning something. It's been a really good industry to be in. And it's only going to get bigger, you know.

STONE: Nationally, solar jobs grew 25 percent last year. And in Arizona, which has the third most capacity in the country, Seitz is optimistic that momentum will continue.

SEITZ: The market is pushing renewable energy. And consumers are pushing renewable energy.

STONE: Seitz credits technology and the rapidly falling price of solar. But policies in the state have also helped. Many solar customers are reimbursed for the extra power they produce. And more than a decade ago, Arizona set a goal that 15 percent of its energy comes from renewables by 2025. So is Seitz worried about her business with Trump's new order?

SEITZ: The train has left the station, and that's not any of a concern to me.

STONE: For evidence, go to nearby PebbleCreek, a retirement community where nearly 30 percent of homes have solar.

DRU BACON: Across the street from me, I think a row of 14 houses, 13 of those houses have rooftop solar.

STONE: Dru Bacon has become a sort of local guru for folks considering solar even leading a nonprofit called the Conservative Alliance for Solar Energy.

BACON: Politics never enter in when I'm working with people. It's all about, how much is it going to cost? How much am I going to save?

STONE: But now that President Trump is rolling back policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, Bacon says progress on renewables could slow.

BACON: I think the electric utilities will continue to install solar and wind, probably not quite to the extent that they were doing it before the rollback.

STONE: He worries the state's policymakers might also pull back. Andy Tobin is one of the five elected officials - all Republican - who oversee Arizona's public utilities. He supports Trump's order.

ANDY TOBIN: It's a breath of fresh air. I think this president is more interested in about states trying to help themselves and help manage themselves out of problems.

STONE: Tobin is dismayed about the possible closure of the West's largest coal-fired plant, which has helped power Arizona for decades. But he says that doesn't mean he's against renewables.

TOBIN: At the end of the day, whose responsibility is to make sure the power lights are still on? Well, it's ours. So yes, I want to see more renewables. I love the idea of technology. These are all good pieces.

STONE: Some in the industry also think the policies Trump is now trying to reverse aren't all that necessary in a place like Arizona. Court Rich is an attorney for renewable energy companies.

COURT RICH: The Clean Power Plan may have been a way to accelerate getting there - getting to the future. But it was going to be very expensive. It was going to have, you know, lots of challenges over time.

STONE: The best thing the Trump administration can do for the solar industry? Rich says: get out of the way, and let the free market flourish.

For NPR News, I'm Will Stone in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And next week on The Call-In, we want to hear from our listeners living in rural America. What issues are you facing? What resources do you need? What do you love about where you live? We want to hear your story. Call in at 202-216-9217. Leave us a voicemail with your full name, where you're from and your experience, and we may use it on the air. That number again 202-216-9217.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.