By this time, most people have seen or heard the news about Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) being shot Saturday afternoon, January 8, in Tucson, Arizona – an episode of violence that left six people dead, including a 9-year-old girl, and Giffords in critical condition.
What fewer people know about is Gifford’s legacy and reputation as a solar advocate whose work has been recognized by such solar leaders as Rhone Resch, the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA.
Resch rightly described Giffords as one of the most accessible “go-to” champions in the House on the subject of renewable energy, particularly solar energy, as well as a key supporter of the SEIA and the person most instrumental in extending the solar investment tax credit for 8 years.
Elected in 2006, and re-elected in 2010 by just 4,000 votes, Giffords was also one of the most active supporters for the one-year extension of the Treasury Grant Program, or TGP (1603), which has been (and will be) so instrumental in seeing utility-scale solar projects come to fruition.
In fact, it was Giffords who initiated the first Solar Power 101 Conference in November of 2007. Solar Power 101 is a series of grassroots meetings aimed at familiarizing both Arizona policy makers and the average Arizona resident with the benefits of solar energy. The 40th Solar Power 101 was held Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, in Green Valley, Arizona.
In June of 2010, Giffords was recognized as the 2010 Advocate of Optics by the Optical Society for her Solar Technology Roadmap Act, H.R. 3585, a bill Giffords successfully brought to fruition in the House to provide more funding for solar energy technologies via the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE.
Resch also described Giffords as “an excellent example of everything a public servant should be,” and indeed she was always ready to give 110 percent to difficult issues like the 2009 Waxman-Markey carbon emissions bill, also called the Climate Change bill. Giffords supported this even though its advocacy was, for her, a risky political position, given her largely Republican-influenced constituency, according to Sierra Club activist Bill Thornton (a risk not diminished by the fact that Waxman-Markey never became law).
Giffords also introduced the Solar Schools Act, which made it more affordable for schools to install solar power systems, and was the impetus behind the awarding of a $1.45 billion loan guarantee from the DOE to construct one of Arizona’s largest solar power plants, the 280-megawatt (MW) Solana concentrating solar power plant by Spanish firm Abengoa Solar.
Always one to put her money where her mouth is, Giffords also installed a 2-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on her Tucson home in 2010, to demonstrate that America’s dream of a clean energy future is a work-in-progress requiring the efforts of every single citizen.