Could an Arizona Town Become the Solar Capital of the World?


When Rick Buss left his position as city manager of Maricopa, Arizona, to become the town manager of a 2,000-person, economically struggling town called Gila Bend in 2008, some people who know him personally and professionally wondered why.

But with a firm background in both technology companies and sustainable management, Mr. Buss had a vision: "There's no reason why Gila Bend, Arizona, can't be the solar capitol of the world."

So he got to work. He brought over a young talent from Maricopa, Eric Fitzer, to serve as his right hand man. Fitzer, Buss tells me, is particularly skilled with zoning and economic development, and working together they crafted a "Solar Field Overlay Zone" (SFOZ), which greatly reduced the complications for solar companies to develop the sun-soaked fields located within the town.   

In addition, Rick worked with the town government to expedite the speed at which solar companies’ construction plans could get approved. Processes that usually take at least a year, and often several years, can now go through public hearings, citizen review sessions, planning and zoning commissions hearings, publication in a newspaper, and council approval in as little as four weeks.

"We aren't even seeing that kind of consistent speed for permitting approvals in the residential sector," said Energy Department's Solar Market Transformation Lead Jennifer DeCesaro. “Whether we're talking about a small 5 kilowatt residential system or a large several hundred megawatt industrial system, lack of consistency and transparency in solar permitting is a challenge for every market sector in this country.”

“When I speak to the solar company executives, what matters the most to them is the elimination of risk,” said Mr. Buss.  “They know they won't get half way through a year-long approval process and then have the rug pulled out from under them, which happens to them a lot in other towns and states.”

Just months after the new processes were in place, two solar companies, Paloma and Cotton Center, had power plants under construction. They’ll both begin to send power on to the Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) power grid by 2012. Right now, two other plants have filed applications with the town, with the possibility of 10-15 more viable plants in the pipeline.

First Solar Vice President Jim Woodruff, whose company built the Paloma solar plant in town in 2011, comments, "Gila Bend has set a world record in utility scale solar plant construction….Right now, we can't build solar power faster anywhere in the world.”

Among the town's next goals, like attracting manufacturing companies to their town, Mr. Buss and the solar companies are interested in serving up power to utility companies in California and Mexico, with possible interconnections to their grids less than 60 miles away.

Right now, the new plants take up approximately four square miles through Gila Bend, most of which used to be cotton and alfalfa fields. Because farming those crops utilizes so much water, these solar energy plants represent a 75 percent to 90 percent reduction in water use in the area. “If you place concentrated solar class power plants in the right places, they actually reduce water use.” said Mr. Buss.

The companies’ objective, says Buss, is to hire locally, but with 2,300 new jobs and just 2,000 residents, there simply aren't enough people in Gila Bend to fill all the positions. So town and company representatives go to neighboring towns and cities and hold workshops, spreading news of the opportunities in Gila Bend.

"Gila Bend had essentially been economically stagnant for the last two decades….Now some people are driving up to 2.5 hours each way for our jobs."

The town, with the help of donations from the solar companies, has set up career development center, to give people advice on how to interview and resources to help workers turn their new jobs into careers. They’re even discussing creating a “Solar Express” transit system, which would transport workers back and forth from Maricopa County to Gila Bend each day.

Mr. Buss makes sure to emphasize the many additional jobs that are being generated in Gila Bend and nearby towns because of the solar plants companies. Shops are selling lunches to the influx of workmen, nearby manufacturers and hiring new staff to fill more orders .

When told by Jennifer DeCesaro what he was doing in Gila Bend was innovative, Fredrick Buss responded simply, "It's common sense."

"Well, either way," she said, "it's amazing."  

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Felix Schott on

    If only we could get the Schools in all Nations to Teach more on Solar Energy.

    When this Old World starts getting you down. From Pollution the cost of OIL,

    Heating Fuel,The Fuel you put in your Vehicles, You Electric Bills from

    cooling air conditioners and lights not to speak of the Evil. The TAX that all

    Governments Federal, State, County and City put on everything they can thing of.

    They are supposed to serve us. Not put a burden on its people. That they are

    elected to serve all the people you, not their own Pocket Books.

    The Wicked keep putting higher taxes on everything. Making it a Heavy

    Burden on many that are already struggling just to put food on the table.

    Too many Americans have lost their home to the tax collector or to foreclosures

    from the unjust bankers greed. More are out of work and lost their homes then

    in the GREAT DEPRESSION,in the last ten years. All Americans and many Nations

    need good jobs and more of them. Not more TAXES.

    There is a Industry that will employ workers and is growing by more then 50%

    every year. There is a clear way for all up on the roof the Sun Light is free

    fuel from GOD. Some wicked in Government have been backing Coal, Oil, Gas and

    the Nuclear industries for too many years. These kickbacks to them were called

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    Environmentalists call this padding their pockets and subsidizing back to the

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    the air we breath full of Toxic Gases, Sulfur Dioxide and more Radioactive

    and Acid Rain. Injuring all living things on Earth.

    With Fred Flintstones to the Rescue. To help create a Healthier Environment.

    For all Future Generations. By spotlighting Renewable Energy and Free Energy

    like Wind and Solar. On his and his neighbor Barny Rubble’s roof. Even though

    the greedy wicked would do everything to stop or slow them down.

    Just imagine a dream that a 100 years ago one of the smartest man to ever

    live had. A dream after working with Sun Light. That all on Earth would use

    Free Energy Solar Energy.

    That Dream also shared by a man that dreamed this over 2,250 years ago.

    Both These men showed the world in their days. That this dream of Free Energy

    Solar Energy World wide was very possible. Both of these two wise men had

    first hand worked and researched their experiments for not just days, weeks

    put for many years.

    One of these men used chalk on Black Board the others board was a black

    stone table or floor covered with white sand and used a stick. One of these

    two Brilliant men had Kings from all most every Kingdom on Earth come to him

    for advice.

    The other went to almost every nation on Earth. Freely on his own dime

    Teaching All that had ears to hear. He would win the Nobel Prize for doing so.

    For his work on Solar Energy. Only after years of doing research and when most

    Scientist on Earth would not take the nomination for the Nobel Prize in 1921 and knew

    it clearly belonged to this Brilliant Scientist, this Brilliant scientist was then awarded it in

    1922 for the 1921 year.

    Now if this was just a Pretend TV Show or a Movie from a dream. This would

    be a great Sci Fi Story Line. In the 1960′s or even better to day. Sci Fi story

    Movie or dream No.

    All that i Have told you did actually really happen. Albert Einstein won the

    Nobel Prize for what? When Government leaders asked him to go on stage. To

    address the Scientific Community and the World. About what he was given the

    Nobel Prize for. When Albert Einstein Had done so. He addressed them with his

    other accomplishments. For years most Governments did not have a ear for

    Einstein’s Dream.

    Archimedes around 250 B.C. was know most of the World over as a great

    Mathematician. One of the first Scientist and Inventor of many things. Even

    the first Laser Ray from the Sun’s Energy. Science Fiction is what you would

    have though you were seeing if you could go back in time, it was real.To day

    we call it The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission. Back then it

    was just called Amplification of the SUN, Archimedes Death Ray.

    Thousand of years later it would be a Laser. That Albert Einstein help

    make possible. That would unlock one of the first books on Earth.

    The METHOD written by Archimedes. Then over more then 250 years later. When

    well Faded was cut from a scroll and put into a book form, to be easier to

    hide from the Romans by St. Paul. This book sold for over 2 million dollars.

    In New york at Christie’s Auction House.

    These two are at the top of the list of the World’s Greatest Scientists,

    Viewed by Scientist around the World.

    Sad that for the last 25 years or so of every teacher asked no matter what

    Grade k through 16. 80% of them did not know Archimedes. Even sadder 90%

    of them could not tell you what one of the most Brilliant Scientist to ever

    live on Earth. Won the Nobel Prize for.

    It was for the work Albert Einstein did to show the World it could get

    Free Energy, Electric from the SUN. PHOTOVOLTAICS

    You ask this question to any Military general 95% of them will get it right.

    Even more surprising 99% of them will know more about Archimedes then most

    Teachers on Earth. Generals know Energy is the key to Winning.

    At almost one thousand to one Archimedes always won against what all knew was

    impossible odds. Archimedes home town city of Syracuse was victorious against the

    greatest Kingdoms Armies on earth many times. Syracuse once was one of the most

    powerful cities in the World.

    I can only ask you to please look into Solar Energy, Solar Power, Solar Panels

    and Solar array on the internet under Images. To see and explore for your self

    then you be the JURY.

    More then 10 years ago the Internet became most of the World’s Universities

    Learning Platform. A Modern Day Archimedes Resource Center.

    The Solar Energy Industry in the year 2010 has leaped ahead farther and

    faster then any other industry on Earth. The Solar Industry in the

    United States of America alone, has grown by more then 50% in 2010 and it looks

    like that number will go up even higher this year 2011.

    The strong benefits of Solar Energy is Clear Clean Air viewed in major cities

    as improving air quality. Clean Cities. By all that use there brain for good .

    View it as protecting the environment and Freedom from OIL.

    While many Governments has eased the Taxes on Renewable Energy . Some cities in the states that these Legislators come from have

    worked against these tax credits.

    By doing so they are showing their true objectives. That they have stock in some power plants and do not want to lose all that Money they have been taking out of your pocket books for too many years. By taxing you on your Energy Bills. They want to Control Power and Tax Everything they can. Not let People be free to get their own power from the top of their own roofs.

    By adding their own taxes to them. These wicked leaders think that this will take away the incentives to harvest the Free Energy from the Sun.

    The Public ability and awareness for all on Earth to use the Natural Solar Energy, is Contributing to Production of Solar Energy Products. Making the Solar Energy Industry the fastest growing on Earth. A Wealth of Free Energy From The SUN.

    The more the wicked try to slow the Solar Energy Industry down, it only Enhances

    involvement and the efforts of the Good at Heart.

    GOD Bless you for reading this.

    The Lord’s little Helper

    Paul Felix Schott


    through out History Many have tried to wipe the good from our history books.

    Read the Bible Jesus will Bless you more then i can.

    SolarWorld has been presenting a Einstein Award to personalities who have advanced the use of solar energy – and helped our Planet Earth.

    We all need to tell all our Teachers and Leaders to use our Nation’s Energy more wisely and efficient. Start to Teach all our Young about Renewable Energy Solar, Wind, and so on.

    Not to for get Flintstones, Fred well there are many the one that is in front of all others Started back in the 1970′s and started a small catalog that has turned into a Wealth of knowledge into Renewable Energy a book called REAL GOODS Solar Living Source Book. By Mr. John Schaeffer.