Some of the biggest issues facing society in the new year will involve finding solutions to our energy and climate problems, and how the growing tension over power production plays out. As the calendar turns to 2015, the Arizona Solar Center takes a look back at some of the major solar stories that made headlines in 2014.
The year began with a question: Can the strong grassroots support for solar overcome the political clout of utilities in policy battles across the country? All eyes had been on Arizona as 2013 came to an end and the Arizona Corporation Commission grappled with net metering policies for rooftop solar homeowners. As we turned the page to 2014, the net metering debate that began in Arizona spread to other states as utilities proposed new fees for households that install rooftop solar.
- La Paz county and the Town of Parker voted to approve a 20-year solar power purchase agreement that is estimated to save $82,000 during its life.
- The Chino Valley Town Council approved a use permit for a 20 megawatt PV system on the edge of town.
- The City of Mesa entered into a solar lease at several city facilities estimated to save $660,000 over the 20 year lease agreement.
- San Luis schools joined a growing list of Arizona schools going solar with the ribbon-cutting for 1.8 megawatts of solar on three schools.
The Solar Foundation released its annual Solar Jobs Census. The report ranked Arizona second in the U.S. for solar jobs despite a 13 percent decline in 2013. The decline was attributed to the completion of the 280 megawatt Solana project near Gila Bend. The forecast for 2014 was one of job growth in the solar sector.
- Students from Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee won a $5,000 prize for a smart phone app they developed to track energy from solar panels.
- Tucson’s Davis-Montham Air Force officials cut the ribbon on a 16.4 MW $40 million solar installation -- the largest on a US military base.
Minnesota became the first state in the nation to legislatively mandate and Public Utlity Commission-approve a value-of-solar-tariff. In 2013, the legislature created the process for determining a "value of solar" tariff that would calculate the appropriate rate utilities should pay solar customers based on their generation mix, the environmental attributes and the technology's ability to offset more expensive forms of generation. In March 2014, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted in favor of establishing the tariff, which included economic costs associated with climate change in the “solar value.”
- The International Renewable Energy Agency and ASU signed an agreement to develop a solar certification program for West Africa.
- Arizona startup Green Energy Storage announced plans to transform an abandoned open-pit copper mine 45 miles south of Phoenix into a large-scale solar power and pumped-hydro storage facility.
- The ASU and New Mexico University passive and active solar house, Shade, was erected at Steele Indian Park in downtown Phoenix. The innovative dwelling designed and built for the desert hosted a visit from former President Bill Clinton.
The silicon solar cell celebrated its 60th birthday on April 25. In 1954, researchers from Bell Laboratories impressed reporters by hooking up a hand-sized silicon panel to a toy Ferris wheel, aiming light at the device and making the wheel turn. Sixty years later, solar is turning the wheels of our economy, employing 143,000 people in the U.S. and generating enough energy to power 2.2 million homes. According to Greentech Media, in 2006, one solar system was installed every 80 minutes in the US. Today, a system goes live every four minutes.
- A University of Arizona study plans to delve deeper into the question of what motivates homeowners to go solar.
- On April 26, the Tucson Solar Potluck was held for the 32nd straight year -- a streak that some believes qualifies it as the longest continuously held solar event in the U.S.
- Tucson Unified School District began installing solar panels on 40 schools throughout the district with anticipated savings of $11 million over 20 years.
Before adjourning for the year, Arizona lawmakers failed to address a new Arizona Department of Revenue interpretation that could result in thousands of homeowners who lease solar panels being assessed property taxes. State law says solar panels that generate power primarily used on-site do not add value to property and are not included in the valuation for property tax purposes. However, the Arizona Department of Revenue changed its interpretation of this law in 2013 to mean that solar panels that are leased should be subject to valuation for tax purposes, because leased panels are not owned by the property owner. The new interpretation will tax homeowners an estimated $152 a year for their leased residential solar array.
- ASU announced that a utility performance-based incentive will cover as much as 40 percent of the $3 million cost for two new “PowerParasols” that not only produce power for the Tempe campus, but also shade two large university parking lots.
- Arizona slipped to seventh place among states for clean energy jobs created during the first quarter, according to a new study by Environmental Entrepreneurs. Arizona ranked below Idaho, Texas, California, Montana, New York and Kansas for job creation in the first quarter.
More than 200 solar advocates rallied at the State Capitol in Phoenix to protest a 2013 decision by the Arizona Department of Revenue to begin assessing property tax on leased solar rooftop systems. The decision was a change to how leased systems had been treated in previous tax years. The protestors called upon Governor Brewer to halt the tax. The Governor rejected the protestors demand saying that there was nothing she could do and that it was the legislature’s problem. In May, the legislature adjourned without approving a bill to eliminate the taxes on leased solar panels.
- APS enters an agreement to lease 100 acres of land from Luke Air Force Base for a new 10 MW solar plant.
- ASU announced that it now has more photovoltaic panels (78,000) than students (76,000) on its four campuses. The combined solar-generation capacity of these 80-plus installations is 23.5 megawatts – more than any other US higher education institution.
- The City of Tempe city council passed an initiative at its June 16th meeting to have 20 percent of the city’s property using renewable energy by 2025.
- The City of Douglas obtained a $1.3 million loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona to design and install a 300 kW solar system to power their wastewater treatment plant.
Electricity demand in Arizona reached record highs: SRP's 970,000 customers required 6,707 megawatts of electricity after 4 p.m., on July 23, surpassing the record at the utility of 6,663 megawatts set Aug. 8, 2012. The utility called upon large business customers in their demand response program to curtail about 50 megawatts of electricity. APS saw a maximum demand of about 7,050 megawatts from its 1.1 million customers. The APS record peak of 7,236 megawatts was set July 21, 2006. Without the contributions of its more than 35,000 solar partners, demand would have easily set new record highs for both utilities.
- Two solar panel installers filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Revenue charging that the state is illegally imposing a property tax on residents who lease solar energy systems.
- The evolution of clean energy choices got a jolt at the end of July when APS announced plans to lease customers’ rooftops for the purpose of installing utility-owned solar electric systems to feed power directly into their grid.
- A new report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shows that July was a historic month for renewable energy in America. The study reports that all new US electrical generating capacity in July came from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower.
According to new projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. will get 1.6 percent of its electricity from solar in 2014. In Japan, that figure is 2.4 percent; among most European countries, it's 6.1 percent. Arizona has the greatest solar capacity per ratepayer in the U.S. Arizona's installed solar capacity is 765 watts per utility customer, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. That's two-thirds more than neighboring Nevada, almost three times as much as New Mexico and 80 times as much as Utah.
- The Arizona Solar Center website makes the list of 101 Terrific Sites on Renewable Energy according to Environmental Science Degree.
- The Environment America Research & Policy Center has released its annual report ranking the top 10 U.S. states with the most cumulative solar electric capacity installed per-capita. These states are (in alphabetical order) Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina.
A new study published by the Solar Foundation shows rapid growth of solar energy being harvested in K-12 schools across the nation, with Arizona ranked third for overall photovoltaic capacity. Two-hundred and twenty-six Arizona schools have solar rooftop units. Nearly 40 percent of these systems, 89 schools, received their solar units through a grant from federal stimulus program known as ARRA.
- Construction is completed on the Agua Caliente Solar Project, the world’s largest operational photovoltaic power plant. Located 65 miles east of the city of Yuma, the plant is owned by NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar and is capable of generating 290 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 230,000 homes.
- First Solar announces plans to spend $20 million to build a research, development and testing facility in Mesa.
- A giant ‘solar receiver' will help provide a renewable boost to TEP's largest power plant -- H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station. Upon completion, the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector will provide a 5 MW boost to the steam generator at the traditional fueled-power plant.
Leasing giant SolarCity began offering a new solar loan package to Arizona customers based only on the electricity that the panels produce. The loans will be offered at 4.5 percent over 30 years. But customers won't pay a fixed amount every month. Instead, they will re-pay the loan in monthly installments based on the power the panels produce. Industry analysts say the loan program could reshape the market for rooftop solar and further propel its rapid adoption. It also provides a work-around to the property tax fee being assessed on leased systems in Arizona.
- Over a dozen Sedona and Verde Valley residents participated in the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society 19th Annual National Solar Tour, the world’s largest grassroots solar event to showcase green homes, schools and businesses. Additional tours were held in Tucson, Mesa and other Arizona cities and towns.
- Governor Jan Brewer issues a proclamation naming October Renewable Energy Month in Arizona.
- The Seattle Mariners Spring Training complex in Peoria is outfitted with a 345 kilowatt solar array that will generate 529 megawatt hours of energy annually. That is enough energy to power 33 homes for one year.
The Arizona Corporation Commission grabbed headlines all month as Republican candidates Tom Forese and Doug Little beat out the two Democratic candidates for four-year terms on the Commission. In other news, ACC staff proposed eliminating the state's efficiency standard that requires electric utilities to reduce the amount of power they sell by 22 percent by 2020 by helping customers conserve. The staff recommendation is a follow-up to outgoing Commissioner Gary Pierce’s comments that the standard is not cost-effective and that all the low-hanging fruit has been harvested. The ACC’s staff also recommended that commissioners reject a controversial proposal from APS to install and own rooftop PV solar systems on 3,000 homes, saying the plans are too costly. At the same time, staff recommended commissioners approve a similar TEP plan to build and own 3.5 MW of residential rooftop solar.
- APS says it will oppose any changes proposed by the Corporation Commission to the state's energy efficiency rules.
- Deutsche Bank analyst predicts rooftop solar PV will reach grid parity in all 50 US states by 2016 – up from just 10 now.
- Salt River Project announces plans to buy solar power from the new 45 MW Sandstone Solar Power Plant under a 21-year contract. SRP will pay a little more than 5 cents per kWh, which is not much more than average on-peak market price for electricity - about 4 cents per kWh.
Arizona utility regulators tabled a discussion and decision until next year on whether to continue to require Arizona utilities to obtain a portion of their electricity from "distributed" renewable energy sources. Current rules require Arizona utilities get increasing amounts of their power from renewable sources. The Arizona standard calls for 15 percent renewables by 2025, 30 percent of which must come from distributed generation resources. This DG carve-out amounts to 4.5 percent of the total energy load. Postponing the discussion until next year ensures any decision will be decided by the new Commission and its two newly elected commissioners.
- The amount of electricity generated by U.S. utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants is up more than 100 percent in 2014 over the same period in 2013.
- Arizona regulators give APS and TEP the green light to enter the residential solar market, a move that allows regulated utilities to compete directly against third-party installers.
- UofA researchers and a group of partners have developed a tool that will help utility companies better understand the long-term impact of renewable energy on the power grid and how to integrate these resources in the future in the most cost-efficient and reliable way.
Happy New Year!
Arizona Solar Center
What do you think was the most significant event related to solar this year?