Solar energy once was considered a feel-good story. We celebrated every announcement as a victory. The promise of free non-polluting power was the hook-line.
We celebrated a vision of Arizona where a significant amount of clean energy is produced from the power of the sun.
We celebrated Calex Homes for a joint-venture with SRP that introduced both solar water heating and photovoltaics into new home construction. Johnson Ranch Estates in the East Valley and Armory Park del Sol in Tucson were celebrated for integrating aesthetically pleasing solar systems into the roofs of houses.
There were feel-good solar stories of houses whose passive solar features (orientation, thermal mass and masonry construction) provided the majority of their heating needs. Homeowners like the Ekenbergs in Flagstaff, and Warren and Carol Brown near Benson, shared their passive solar success stories.
There were stories of solar pioneers that built beyond the power lines and enjoyed every convenience that a “grid-tied” home enjoyed – even tv. People like Gary and Marti Ross in Tucson, and Gino and Helen Holton in Prescott.
There were even legal victories like the Madigans and Speaks families prevailing in court against their Homeowner Association in a decision that ensured the rights of homeowners everywhere to install and use solar systems on their property.
We celebrated our utilities as responsible corporate citizens when they rolled out rebate programs. Even though the numbers weren’t impressive by today standards -- we still celebrated TEP when they announced an average of two homes a month had signed up for rebates during the first year of its Sunshare program in 2002.
The announcements and dedications of solar power plants were cause for speeches, proclamations and celebrations. TEP’s 4.6 MW Springerville solar farm was the largest in the country when it was built over a decade ago. The one-megawatt APS concentrating solar power plant near Picacho Peak, off of I-10, was dedicated with great fanfare as Art Linkletter took the microphone and said the darndest thing -- solar energy had an exciting future in Arizona.
I even joined the ranks of feel-good stories becoming the first SRP customer to participate in its solar rebate program, and as a result appeared on tv and in newspaper stories to tout rebates and solar electricity as the best thing since sliced bread.
These days we rarely celebrate our successes. The solar feel-good stories still exist but have nearly disappeared altogether from the headlines, overshadowed by controversies stemming from halls of government. And, that is sad.
Reflecting upon the aforementioned solar successes I am reminded of a feel-good solar story involving an Arizona entrepreneur/politician that has rarely been told. And it should be told and celebrated like all the other solar success stories.
Rick Murphy, not to be confused with the state legislator by the same name, is a third-generation Arizonan. He was born in his grandfather's house in the shadow of Parker Dam.
Murphy was a solar pioneer before solar became a four-letter word in campaign mailers. The radio tycoon from Lake Havasu City twice ran in the Republican primary for Congress, and lost.
Murphy saw the “sunlight” when his first grandchild, Riley, was born in the early 2000s. Fearing a future for his grandchildren that included climate change -- Murphy put his money where his mouth is and developed a concept for community solar projects. And, he ran for office.
Modeled after the Victory Gardens of World War II, Murphy came up with Victory Power Gardens. Like the Victory Gardens during the 1940s where community members could grow vegetables in a community garden – Murphy envisioned community rooftop solar projects that people could buy into as opposed to having to install panels on their own homes. It was a battle plan for energy independence and to turn back the tide of climate change.
Murphy’s Victory Power Garden was never built, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. Instead, legal and regulatory barriers to selling power stalled his vision. Today, however, those barriers have been defeated and community solar projects modeled after Murphy’s Victory Power Garden are springing up all over the country.
Rick Murphy would lose his electoral campaigns to Rep. Trent Franks and later to Rep. Paul Gosar, but his feel-good solar story is one of victory over defeat – and it is finally being told.
The community solar story is just one more success story that belongs uniquely to Arizona -- where new ideas and devices are ever welcomed and their merits tested and proven and achievements acclaimed.
Arizona Solar Center
Question: Care to share your feel-good solar story? Know a solar success story that needs to be told? Please share . . .