Arizona is Lighting the Way in Solar Power

Kevin Hengehold July 25, 2013 1

Lighting_the_way_EnvAm_cover smallOn Tuesday, Environment America release the report “Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn From America’s Top 12 Solar States.”

Arizona shone brightest among the “Dazzling Dozen,” the twelve states with the greatest solar installations per capita (in table, below).  Our state ranked first in installed capacity per person and per capita installations in 2012, while ranking second in cumulative installed solar installations and 2012 installed photovoltaic capacity.

Arizona has seen a dramatic increase in solar energy along with the rest of the country.  America has more than tripled its photovoltaic capacity today since 2010, with more than 10 times as much since 2007. In the first three months of 2013, solar power accounted for nearly half of the new electricity generating capacity in the United States.

This can be attributed to the price of solar energy rapidly falling, as well as shrewd policy choices by select state governments.

Although the US has seen a dramatic rise in solar deployment, the solar panels are not distributed evenly.  The “Dazzling Dozen” account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population but 85 percent of the nation’s installed solar electricity capacity. These 12 states, listed below in the table, possess strong policies that are enabling increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to go solar.

11 of the 12 states have strong net metering policies.  For the uninitiated, net metering allows consumers to be compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid. Net metering ensures that consumers receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid. Arizona and New Jersey are the only states that have unlimited net metering policies; all other states implemented a cap on the amount of kilowatt-hours customers will be compensated for providing to the grid.  However, in Arizona net metering is being challenged by APS, and soon customers may have to pay $50 or $100 for the right to sell power back to the grid or receive below-market rates for the power they generate.  If this happens, it will certainly impede the rooftop solar industry, hurting our rank in solar installations per capita, which would significantly decrease our overall rank.

10 of the 12 have strong statewide interconnection policies. Good interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.  According to Freeing the Grid, Arizona is one of the two states among the Dozen that does not have a statewide interconnection policy.  Enacting such a policy would provide a uniform set of rules to solar energy developers, which could spur further development.

11 of the 12 have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 9 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.  Arizona has an ambitious solar carve-out, at 5% of total generation by 2025, but a timid renewable portfolio standard (RPS), at 15% by 2025.  Arizona comes in with one of the weakest RPS standards, only beating North Carolina, who implemented a 12.5% standard.  However, their target must be met by 2021, while our utilities have until 2025 to hit 15%.  In fact, Arizona is only required to produce 11% of its power from renewable sources by 2021, making it comparatively weaker than North Carolina’s on its timeline.

The vast majority of the states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.  Arizona allows for third-party equipment leases, which have seen an explosion in the past few years; in 2011, more residential solar systems in California were financed through third-party developers than through traditional cash purchases, and 80% of residential solar installations in Colorado in the first months of 2012 were financed by a third-party model.  Although PACE-enabling legislation has been proposed in the Arizona legislature, it has yet to make it out of committee.

These policies should be expanded wherever possible, the study contends, because solar power benefits the economy, the environment, and consumers.

It does this by providing power in the middle of the day, at peak demand, which decreases the strain on the grid and can decrease energy costs. Distributed solar energy also benefits consumers by reducing the need for expensive investments in long-distance transmission lines. Solar Power creates clean energy jobs that can’t be outsourced. More than 119,000 people currently work in America’s solar industry, most of them in jobs such as installation that are located close to the places where solar panels are installed.  And it does all that while producing 96% less global warming pollution per unit of energy than coal-fired power plants over their entire life cycle, and 91% less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.

The report concludes by prescribing further policy supporting solar development at all levels of government.  At the local level, clean energy financing districts can be implemented, and feed-in tariffs or CLEAN contracts can be used to incentivize solar power.  Solar permitting can be streamlined to expedite projects and lower costs.  State governments can expand renewable standards and encourage smart investment in the renewable sector.  And the federal government can continue to provide tax incentives, such as the investment tax credit, encourage responsible development of prime solar resources on public lands in the American West, and support research, development and deployment efforts designed to reduce the cost of solar energy and smooth the incorporation of large amounts of solar energy into the electric grid.

Finally, all levels of government can set a good example by installing solar on their buildings.  Not only can it inspire their constituents to follow suit, but it could save the government money on its utility bills.

The complete study can be found here: Lighting the Way.

State

Cumulative
Solar
Electricity
Capacity per Capita (Watts/person)

Rank

Solar
PV 
Capacity
Installed
During 2012
per Capita
(Watts/ person)

Rank

Cumulative
Solar
Electricity
Installations
(MW)

Rank

2012
Annual PV
Installed
Capacity
(MW)

Rank

Arizona 167 1 108 1 1,097 2 710 2
Nevada 146 2 72 3 403 4 198 4
Hawaii 137 3 78 2 191 9 109 7
New Jersey 110 4 47 4 971 3 415 3
New Mexico 91 5 11 11 190 10 24 18
California 76 6 27 6 2,901 1 1,033 1
Delaware 69 7 28 5 44 19 18 19
Colorado 52 8 8 12 270 5 40 12
Vermont 34 9 26 7 21 22 16 20
Massachusetts 30 10 19 8 198 7 129 6
North Carolina 23 11 14 9 229 6 132 5
Maryland 19 12 13 10 109 14 74 8
  • Kate

    Does anyone know if this new move on eliminating net metering and/or the bizarre TV ads claiming solar panel owners are paid for excess electric production fed back into the grid up to 5 times what non solar customers pay for electricity have any connection to ALEC?