Energy Policymaker Spotlights

Energy Policymaker in the Spotlight: Ft. Huachuca Schools Superintendant Dr. Rhonda Frueauff

Spotlight on Dr. Rhonda Frueauff, outgoing superintendent for the Ft. Huachuca Accommodation School District

Colonel Smith Middle School (CSMS) is a unique place of learning, not just because it serves military families in Southeast Arizona, but because it is also Arizona’s first net-zero energy school. “Net-zero energy” means that CSMS produces as much energy over a year as it uses to function and operate, mostly through solar panels on its rooftops. The project is the brain-child of Ronda Frueauff, the outgoing superintendent for the Ft. Huachuca Accommodation School District. Colonel Smith Middle School takes experiential learning to the next level by embracing sustainability though technology, and technology through sustainability. The result has been a unique institution that is laying a solid foundation for kids to continue in a future where high-tech skills and clean energy sense are becoming increasingly necessary.


Dr. Frueauff has built overseen the construction of 12 schools in her career as a superintendent, including three new schools on the Ft. Huachuca base. She used this experience to fulfill her aspirations for a school that truly embraces experiential learning by embracing technology and clean energy. The vision for the school came from Dr. Frueauff’s personal research, her 30 years of experience as an educator, and sprang directly from a concept paper she authored on her model for experiential learning. “In order to engage students, you have to have an environment that is inviting and engaging… I want everything to be a learning environment from the time they get off the school bus, until the time they leave the building.”

Educational Features of the Net-Zero School

The school’s features allow students to learn about energy systems by monitoring energy production and efficiency throughout the school at any time on their iPads (Figure 1). This “Energy Dashboard” measures the production of 37 energy sources, monitors how energy is being utilized, tracks the wind production and how it affects the grid, and measures the water harvesting that the school uses for irrigation. Each wind turbine has a slightly different design, allowing students to compare which types of energy production are more efficient and draw their own conclusions about renewable energy production and design. Another unique energy-saving feature of the school is the utilization of day lighting. On most days, the lights in the classroom are off during the lesson because of the extensive use of daylight that was the product of smart design and site planning, according to Dr. Frueauff.

The success and comprehensiveness of the experiential learning and net-zero energy features of the school exceeded even her expectations, but that is not the only unique part of the school. In fact, going net-zero was not in the initial plan for the school. The school embraces a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum by including technology use into almost every element of education. Students have access to 3-D modeling software, film editing classes, iPads, and a high-caliber science and engineering program that prepares them for college-level classes when they matriculate to Sierra Vista High School. CSMS includes a specialized high school component for students who wish to continue their high-tech studies after graduation. CSMS supports up to 150 students who can stick with the program, allowing them to accelerate their learning at community college, and actually attain associates degrees by the time they graduate from high school.

Construction and Implementation

Dr. Frueauff explained that the implementation of her concept paper was a part of the school’s effort to keep her on board for a few more years. The Ft. Huachuca education board read and understood Dr. Frueauff’s paper, and gave her extensive latitude in fulfilling her vision for an experiential learning environment that prepares students for a high-tech, clean energy future. To Dr. Frueauff, CSMS was a particularly special outcome, because typically new school projects lack the funding and/or political will necessary to build such a cutting-edge facility. But the case of Colonel Smith Middle School “was so exceptional, I don’t know what I would have done differently. It [was] a once in a lifetime experience.” Dr. Frueauff said that the school’s construction was so successful because of an extraordinary team of experts, engineers, and a willing school board, combined with a military community that already understood and embraced high-technology education and clean energy. CSMS services hundreds of military families on the base at Ft. Huachuca, was also significantly bolstered by the U.S. military’s policy mandate to integrate clean and renewable energy into our military bases.

Students were involved from the initiation of the planning process: “students love the school and were part of the design process and dialogue.” Dr. Frueauff explained that students were able to provide direct input on proposed features of the school, including the use of iPads as part of the instructional program, furniture design, and increased independence and responsibility for their own education. The result is a unique educational environment. Dr. Frueauff hopes that CSMS can serve as a model that other schools will embrace as they pursue STEM-oriented curricula, sustainability, and experiential learning.

Energy Policymaker in the Spotlight: Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord

Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord

The Challenge

Since 2010, Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord has helped her city become a leader in residential distributed generation solar installations. That year, Goodyear signed onto the Arizona SmartPower Solar Challenge, (led by Arizona SmartPower State Director Toni Bouchard and supported by APS), which encourages Arizona cities to install solar rooftop systems on at least 5 percent of their city’s owner-occupied homes by 2015. (See Fig. 1 for current Solar Challenge rankings). Signing on for the challenge stirred up community spirit; Mayor Lord explained that, “you know if they say it’s a community contest, you can guess what, we’re going to win it…so they said the magic words, ‘contest’, ‘competition’ …it was a worthwhile challenge.”

Fig. 1. Source: Arizona Smartpower;

When Mayor Lord set a measurable, feasible goal for rooftop solar in Goodyear, she articulated clean energy generation as a community priority. Goodyear then managed to exceed that goal by more than double within just 2 years.[1] This success can be attributed to a robust community engagement initiative called the Solar Ambassador program, outlined by the Challenge and immediately embraced by Mayor Lord.

The idea behind Solar Ambassadors

Solar Ambassadors are neighbors who have already installed solar in their homes and are happy to talk to other community members about their experience.  Installing a rooftop solar system may sound daunting to a homeowner, but that perception can change when a neighbor tells you their reasons for installing the system and their experience over a cup of coffee in the homeowner’s kitchen. Goodyear currently has eighteen Solar Ambassador families who speak with interested neighbors about how and why they started the installation process. When a neighbor wants more information, the Ambassadors pass on contact information for AZ Smartpower, who can provide more information regarding specific benefits of solar power and a list of qualified solar installers.

How Goodyear has leveraged the Ambassador program

Once Goodyear signed up to take part in the Challenge, Mayor Lord drafted Goodyear resident and solar enthusiast Dru Bacon to lead the Goodyear Solar Ambassador program. Explaining the reason for their city’s leadership position, Mayor Lord admits Goodyear has a competitive advantage in Bacon. Until recently, he led the Arizona SmartPower Solar Ambassador program and, by his estimate, has articulated the benefits of solar technology and the installation process clearly and eloquently to thousands of people through his blog, community presentations and person-to-person conversations. (You can read one of Bacon’s blog posts breaking down the benefits of solar technology at here.) “He’s been my resource on solar,” said Lord. “Once Dru took over, I stepped back and let [the program][ take its course.” For other communities who want to follow in Goodyear’s footsteps, Mayor Lord recommends finding a version of Dru Bacon.  “If you’ve got someone out in your community who is an expert, who loves it, go for it. We love those volunteers. We take no ownership, really it’s the community’s ownership in this.”

Best practices:

  • Setting a measureable clean energy goal
  • Harnessing the power of citizen knowledge and engagement

[1] Goodyear is one of three Arizona cities that have more than doubled their 5 percent rooftop panel goal.* (the latest data show Buckeye has taken the lead in the Challenge with almost 13% of residential rooftops with solar installations).

Energy Policymaker in the Spotlight: State Rep. Amanda Reeve

Best Practices: Identifying an effective energy cost savings policy and working extensively with stakeholders to

  • improve it with strengthened financial protections for participating schools
  • expand it to give towns, cities and counties opportunity to participate

During the 2012 legislative session, Rep. Amanda Reeve successfully passed HB 2830, the Energy and Water Savings Account bill, which strengthens an existing program that allows Arizona schools to implement long-term energy cost savings projects while avoiding the significant up-front costs and the burden of financial risk these projects may incur. Reeve’s bill also expands the program to interested cities, towns and counties throughout Arizona.

In the existing program, codified as A.R.S. § 15-213.01, Arizona schools work with energy services companies (ESCOs) to obtain third-party financing for energy efficiency projects. The ESCO develops and implements the projects while providing the schools with cost savings guarantees. These partnerships result in both actual cost savings and significant reduced financial risk to schools.

While schools throughout Arizona have used this program successfully, a variety of stakeholders approached Reeve to work on strengthening the program and extending it. Cities, towns and counties wanted the ability to implement these programs in their facilities. Schools wanted more flexibility when implementing the efficiency measures and more uniformity when dealing with ESCOs. Additionally, participating schools, cities, towns and counties wanted the ability to use the financing program to develop their own renewable generating capabilities – distributed solar panels on building rooftops to generate energy for their own facilities.

Over the course of about two years, Reeve met extensively with various stakeholders to ensure the new version provided schools with financial accountability protections from partnering ESCO’s, which in turn also provides the ESCO industry with greater integrity provisions.  She worked with various ESCOs such as AMERESCO and NORESCO, Maricopa County, the Governor’s Office of Energy Policy, the AZ Builders’ Alliance, Arizona Public Service Company, Salt River Project, SouthwestGas Corporation, the AZ Department of Administration, the AZ League of Cities and Towns, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Scottsdale Unified School District, and the AZ School Facilities Board, among others.Reeve consistently emphasized the importance of stakeholder give and take in the drafting of the bill.  When working on a bill with stakeholders, Reeve notes that “a big part of it is just listening to what’s being said.”

Energy Policymakers in the Spotlight: Rick Buss and Eric Fitzer, Gila Bend, AZ

Rick Buss, Gila Bend Town Manager

 Best practices: simplifying regulation

Instead of a one-size-fits-all zoning process, they tailored the zoning processes to the estimated level of impact—A master-planned subdivision goes through a lengthy, strict permitting process; a solar development goes through a shorter, simplified process.  Gila Bend, as a result, is attracting more solar development proposals than most any other place in the country.

Best practices: working with property owners and other stakeholders

Rick Buss and Eric Fitzer initiated conversations with property owners and other stakeholders. They respected private investment concerns and worked with property owners to add value to their properties while ensuring regulations were flexible to meet future technology improvements and market forces. They also educated stakeholders on environmental questions, such as how much water would be used for solar energy development and generation.

Advice for other AZ communities

Eric Fitzer, Gila Bend Planning and Economic Development Director
Arizona towns and counties can foster local industries by assessing their locality’s strengths and abilities and supporting them with common-sense policies. Eric Fitzer urges communities throughout Arizona to “enact policies where you can capture the supply chain. There’s no reason we should be buying any products outside of AZ.” He points to Tempe as a community taking such an approach. Its density is an obstacle to utility-scale solar, but its strength lies in its knowledge base, and notes that it is a growing hub for solar research and development.

Background on Innovative Zoning for Streamlined Solar Permitting Process

In 2009, Eric Fitzer met with a property owner in Gila Bend who had intended to build a master-planned community before the real estate market crashed.  Solar developers had approached the property owner, but this potential new development faced the same lengthy permitting process as the previously planned use. Eric then met with Rick Buss to discuss why the permitting process was the same for both projects, despite the difference in projected impacts.

Large-scale, large-footprint projects, which Rick had worked on before arriving in Gila Bend, go through rigorous permitting and environmental assessment processes. These processes are directly related to the scale of the project’s footprint. But the established zoning and permitting process for solar development in Gila Bend was unrelated to the project’s projected footprint.  Instead, the processes only served to add uncertainty to solar development and hinder investment.

To find a solution, Rick and Eric looked to successful zoning initiatives in other places, researched zoning overlay laws in Arizona and drafted the new zoning initiative only after first learning from stakeholders about their priorities and concerns. They found that solar’s physical impacts to an area were minimal, while the benefits were great: in addition to expediting the generation of homegrown energy, the solar overlay zoning acts as a town marketing tool.  It also increases property values by opening the land up to a whole new market of purchasers or leasees – solar developers. Through this added zoning layer, Gila Bend turned a $1 million plot of land into a $70 million plot of land. The simplified zoning process has contributed to the 2011 completion of two utility-scale solar developments online with APS, with several more developments planned.  Gila Bend now has 34 MW of installed capacity, with 280 MW under construction, and envisions 3,000-5,000 MW of installed capacity, based on today’s technologies.

Sources for this article
Gila Bend Transmission Initiative presentation
Gila Bend App (free in Itunes)
Gila Bend General Plan final 2006

Contact information

Gila Bend, AZ
644 W. Pima Street,
P.O. Box A
Gila Bend, AZ 85337