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5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

by Travis Holum (May 2, 2017)  newsfeedback@fool.com

Solar energy was the single biggest source of new electricity capacity in the United States in 2016 and now makes up over 1% of all electricity generated in the country. And with solar energy now cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear in most of the country, the industry is primed for growth in the next decade. 

What’s surprising is where all of this solar is being installed. Sure, California is a big solar state, but when you look at the top five solar states per capita, there are some surprisingly solar-friendly states in the nation. The five states with the most solar per capita are Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, California, and Arizona.

Nevada takes the top solar spot

California is by far the biggest solar state, with 18,296 MW of solar capacity having been installed through the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 3 million homes. But it’s not the top solar state per capita. 

Nevada actually has the most solar relative to its population, with 745 watts per capita, or nearly three solar panels per person. At peak sunlight, that’s enough to power 67 high-efficiency LED light bulbs. Most of the solar power isn’t on residents’ rooftops; it’s instead in large utility-scale power plants in the Nevada desert. For example, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) has built 150 MW at the Boulder City 1 and 2 power plants, and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has built the 250 MW Moapa Solar Project near Las Vegas. With plenty of solar resources and the ability to export energy into Southern California’s energy market, Nevada will probably remain near the top of the solar per capita list for years to come. 

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

Second on the list is Utah, with 488 watts per capita, a surprisingly high level for a state that gets very little national attention in solar. And its 1,489 MW of total solar installations will power 292,000 homes, or 40% of all homes in the state. Utah is also the home of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR), one of the biggest residential solar installers in the country, and with lots of solar resources on the southern side of the state, the industry has a bright future there. 

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

Hawaii is third, with 472 watts of solar per capita, and if you’ve visited the state recently, this is no surprise. Rooftop solar is commonplace, and now islands such as Kauai are pushing toward 100% renewables.

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has built a solar-plus-storage plant on Kauai, and AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) recently signed a deal to build 28 MW of solar and 100 MWh of energy storage for just $0.11 per kWh, less than the average retail price of electricity in the continental United States. And with Hawaii’s electricity costs about triple the national average –because it burns oil for most electricity — this is a state that could be No. 1 in solar per capita very soon. 

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

California is fourth in the country, with 466 watts of solar per capita. It’s home to a large number of utility-scale solar projects and is the No. 1 state for rooftop solar as well. California has been more aggressive than most states in adopting policies both to drive solar growth and to provide fair compensation for all consumers, with time-of-use rates for residents having become a renewable portfolio standard that drove utility installations over the last decade. Its sheer size may make it hard for it to become first in per capita rankings, but this will be the biggest state for solar overall for a long time. 

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

Arizona is the fifth-highest solar state per capita, at 430 watts. The state has been home of some of the biggest fights in residential solar, with utility APS opposing net metering vigorously. But large projects such as First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente project are still going up, and it’s hard to fight the low cost of solar in the state. And with abundant solar resources, Arizona should be a big solar state in the future. 

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

If you’re into solar energy, there are some surprising states to keep an eye on beyond these top five. North Carolina is the No. 2 solar state in the country by cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2016, with 3,016 MW of solar, a surprise for a state that hasn’t typically been seen as solar-friendly. Georgia and Texas are Nos. 8 and 9 nationally, with 1,432 MW and 1,215 MW, respectively, but both have abundant solar resources and should move up the list. 

What’s certain is that with solar energy now competitive with fossil fuels for utilities, commercial users, and homeowners across the country, the amount of solar energy per capita will only grow in the future. 

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APS says solar, energy efficiency to make up 50% of new production

by Frank Andorka (April 13, 2017) www.pv-magazine-usa.com

Arizona’s largest investor-owned utility says the next 15 years will include significant increases in solar production, battery storage products and significant reductions in coal-fired production plants.

APS' 2017 Integrated Resources Plan predicts its customers should expect to see more utility-scale solar development by the company, like this facility outside Tucson, Arizona.

With the net-metering battle in its rearview mirror, Arizona Public Service (APS) is forging a new electricity-generation future – and says solar will play a crucial role for at least the next 15 years.

APS filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the state’s Corporation Commission (which regulates utilities) late yesterday, and it contained good news for consumers who want to be powered by solar, including a prediction of a significant increase in private rooftop solar capacity. The plan is the result of a three-year-long, back-and-forth discussions with customers.

The plan says Arizona’s customers can expect more solar power and energy efficiency programs over the next 15 years, generating nearly 50% of the utility’s new energy growth. It says it will also expand its battery-storage programs beyond its existing 500 MW of pilot programs to support solar power and its smooth integration into the grid.

Among APS’ other commitments are to develop a more robust and advanced grid infrastructure to allow an increase of distributed energy resources, batteries and microgrids, as well as figuring out the best ways how solar, energy storage and other technologies interact. Lastly, APS pledged to reduce its use of coal will drop from 21 percent to 11 percent under the plan.

APS serves about 2.7 million people in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Renewable energy currently makes up around 12% of the utility’s non-carbon based electricity production.

Arizona currently supports 7,310 solar jobs, more than half of which are in installation, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. It ranks No. 1 in access to solar resources and has a current renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of reaching 15% of its utility production from renewable energy by 2025.

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Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

by Steve Hanley (Aug 16, 2016) cleantechnica.com

Solar power disrupts the business of existing utility companies. In exchange for being granted a monopoly to generate and distribute electricity in a given geographic area, utilities are guaranteed a certain rate of return. That gives them an incentive to spend more money on power plants and grid expansion. The more they spend, the more money they are allowed earn. That’s how the power game is played in the US.

solar power

Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar

Utility grids are designed to distribute electricity from one or two central locations to many residential and commercial users. But solar customers often feed excess electricity back into the grid from its margins. That cuts into utilities’ profits, so they try their best to put up barriers to the practice.

They complain that solar customers are not paying their fair share to maintain the grid (and line the pockets of utility company executives). They try to lower the amount they pay solar customers for their electricity. Another favorite tactic is to impose a surcharge on the utility bills of customers with rooftop solar installations.

Solar customers argue that they are conferring a benefit on all people in the service area because their electricity is not made by burning fossil fuels. They say they should be compensated for the improved health prospects of the community. They also argue that they shouldn’t pay as much toward the upkeep of the grid and limited expansion needs because their electricity is used locally and doesn’t need to travel long distances over high-voltage lines.

Earlier this year, the Nevada public utilities commission (PUC) knuckled under to the demands of Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. It ended the requirement that the utility pay for excess electricity and imposed hefty monthly surcharges on rooftop solar customers. All across America, utility companies have initiated a war on rooftop solar. It’s not that they object to solar energy, as such. It’s just they don’t want to give up control over what they think of as “their grid.” They also don’t want their income reduced in any way.

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

Regulators in Arizona and New Mexico have sided with solar customers in two recent instances. On Thursday, the Arizona Corporation Commission rejected the request by UNS Electric to add fees for solar customers and do away with net metering. Solar advocates in the state applauded the decision, which came after two full days of testimony in front of the commission.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power,” Briana Kobor, a program director with Vote Solar, said in a statement. “I appreciate the Commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona.”

“This decision is great news for Arizona families and small businesses that plan on going solar, and for everyone who breathes cleaner air as a result,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. “The decision sends a powerful message to Arizona utilities that the Commission will not simply rubberstamp their anti-solar agenda.”

Also last week, regulators in New Mexico approved a settlement that will decrease the amount of fees for solar customers in Southwestern Public Service Company’s service area. That utility had also proposed an increase in fixed charges for solar customers.

The struggle between utilities and solar customers is far from over. Elon Musk last week made some conciliatory remarks when he said there is room enough for all in the electricity markets of the future. He also foresees an end to net metering. Musk expects the demand for electricity to double or triple as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. But solar power advocates are happy to win two small skirmishes in the war this week.

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Arizona regulators table net metering request, add rooftop solar surcharge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!

Instead of going quietly into the night, these giant power utilities are fighting back to preserve their guaranteed profits while resisting the growing movement to renewable energy, forcing rooftop solar owners to pay the penalty.  Perhaps with this level of 20th Century, antiquated, bottom-line logic they can also serve as the self-appointed defender of the typewriter, Walkman, floppy disk, and dot matrix technology.  The big utilities may slow solar down, but this world-wide Renewable Revolution will not be stopped.  Better to get on board than watch from the sidelines.   (Brent Sauser)

By Rod Walton (Aug 12, 2016) www.elp.com

High voltage post against dreamy backgroundArizona energy regulators voted Thursday to allow UNS Electric to add a monthly surcharge on customers with new rooftop solar systems. Solar power advocates, however, say the decision was a victory because the new charge is substantially lower than what UNS initially wanted to impose.

The Arizona Corporation Commission approved a $1.58 monthly charge on UNS customers who add rooftop solar power systems after new rates take effect probably by September. The fee was sized down from an original $5.95 monthly surcharge proposed by UNS.

Overall, UNS customers will pay about $4 more per month due to higher standard rates. UNS’ service territory covers much of Arizona outside of Phoenix.

The commission, however, tabled a net metering cut proposed by UNS and its sister utility, Tucson Electric Power. Arizona Public Service also has filed a request for a net metering cut. Net metering forces the utility to buy back excess power generated from rooftop systems at the retail rather than wholesale rate.

Solar advocates such as Earthjustice and Vote Solar applauded the commission’s delay and fee reduction. They argued that UNS and APS’ proposed cuts—trimming as much as 73 percent from the net metering paybacks, by some accounts—would have brought the growing rooftop solar adoption to a halt. Some analysts have said that if adopted the cuts would make rooftop solar uneconomical by the middle of 2017.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power. I appreciate the commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona,” said Briana Kobor, Vote Solar’s DG Regulatory Policy Program Director.

UNS will return to the commission with the proposed net-metering reduction plan once the regulators have heard other solar-related cases.

A report by the Solar Energy Industries Association several years ago estimated that distributed solar generation and net metering provides about $34 million annually back to Arizona Public Service customers. Some reports have put the overall net metering payback at close to $1 billion over a 20-year period.

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Arizona solar ballot initiative launched by super PAC

by Ryan Randazzo (April 15, 2016) azcentral.com

AZ-Solar 01

Arizona voters could weigh in on whether utilities can charge special rates to solar customers that make it less economical to go solar.

An industry-backed super PAC called Yes on AZ Solar filed paperwork Friday seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would preserve the system of net metering, where utilities give solar customers a one-to-one credit for most of the excess power they send to the grid.

The group will be lead by Kris Mayes, a former chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission and director of an energy council at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. She will take a leave from ASU to run the campaign.

The initiative is called Arizona Solar Energy Freedom Act, and because it seeks to amend the state Constitution, will require 225,963 signatures by early July to get on the ballot this fall.

AZ-Solar 02“We believe Arizonans have the right to decide this issue for themselves,” Mayes said Friday. “Do we want to be the solar capital of the world? Do we want the right to produce our own power? Arizonans will overwhelmingly say, yes, we do. Solar is part of who we are as Arizonans. This will enshrine that fact in the Constitution.”

Mayes said the initiative is being backed by the solar industry, and that additional filings will be made regarding its supporters. Christine Brown of Lincoln Strategy Group is the committee treasurer. Mayes said “significant” resources will be put into the campaign.

“We are in this to win it,” Mayes said.

Arizona Public Service Co. and other utilities have been adding new fees to solar customers, contending they don’t pay their fair share of maintaining the power grid. The initiative, if passed, would end that practice.

AZ-Solar 03“This is a ridiculous attempt by California billionaires to get richer by forcing higher energy costs on Arizona consumers,” APS spokesman Jim McDonald said Friday. “It works against Arizona families and is detrimental to sustainable solar in Arizona.”

Net metering helps customers lower their utility bills because the credits they get for excess power accumulate and offset power they draw from their utility at night or when they have multiple appliances running, requiring more power than their solar panels generate. Except for rural homes off the power grid, most solar homes don’t have batteries to store the power, so it must be used instantly or sent to the grid for others to use.

Utility policies such as net metering traditionally have been regulated by the five Arizona  commissioners, who are elected to their statewide office and vote on such matters. Commission Chairman Doug Little on Friday declined to comment on the initiative, saying he wanted to take the weekend to review it.

Utilities adding fees for solar customers

As the price of solar panels dropped in recent years and leasing arrangements became common, utilities across the country have sought ways to amend net metering and get solar customers to pay more for their utility service.

In addition to preserving net metering, the initiative seeks to protect solar customers from other fees that single them out, and from unnecessary delays in gaining utility approval to begin generating power, which has been a problem recently as some customers wait weeks to turn their systems on.

The initiative would protect solar customers for six years, through 2022. After that, new solar customers could face rate changes, but those who install solar by then would be allowed to remain on their existing rate plans as long as they continued to use solar.

Mayes said the initiative would prevent fees like those in Nevada, where regulators made changes in December and February to solar customers’ rates. That prompted some solar companies to leave the state.

AZ-Solar 04UniSource Energy Services, with 93,000 customers in Mohave and Santa Cruz counties, is requesting similar changes from its regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission and the state’s biggest utility, Arizona Public Service, is scheduled to file a rate case in June that is expected to make major changes to solar rates, in addition to the average $5 a month in special fees those customers pay now.

If the Arizona Corporation Commission approves new solar-specific rates, and the initiative makes it to the ballot and passes, then the utilities will be given 90 days to come into compliance with the law.

Letting voters weigh in on solar debate 

The UniSource case has drawn support from utilities like APS and opposition from the statewide solar industry, which fears that if they pass, they will set a precedent for APS and other utilities.

“Time has shown that demand rates are not popular,” said Mark Holohan of Wilson Electric, a board member of the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association, who learned of the ballot initiative Friday.

“All the utilities in Arizona are proposing radical changes to residential rates,” Holohan said. “I think this is an exciting thing to go to the people of Arizona to seek their opinion on the subject, since there appear to be some radically different thoughts on it.”

Salt River Project, which is regulated by its own elected board of directors, enacted new rates on solar customers last year and has seen a dramatic drop-off in the number of people installing solar. The initiative Mayes is pushing would not affect SRP rates, only those investor-owned and co-op utilities regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

The initiative comes just weeks after two solar advocates won election to the Salt River Project board of directors, traditionally a difficult, small-time election for outsiders to win.

Paul Hirt and Nick Brown ran for the board because they disagreed with the board’s new solar fees. Those charges can largely wipe away any savings solar customers see by generating their own power.

Hirt is an Arizona State University professor of history and sustainability. Brown is an energy consultant who moved to the area in 2011 to help ASU develop solar.

arizona-solar-solutions-logo

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