Phoenix – Today, Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center released a new report: Lighting the Way, ranking Arizona first in the nation for solar installed per capita. The report emphasizes that effective public policy, more than available sunlight, has helped to enable Arizona to capture the virtually unlimited and pollution-free energy from the sun. The report also cautions against taking steps backward in Arizona that would hinder or undo policies that have helped the state become a national solar leader.
Arizona’s current commitment to solar helped fuel a tripling of solar energy nationwide between 2011 and 2013. Last year solar capacity in Arizona grew, bringing total capacity to 1,821 megawatts.
“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in Arizona and across the country,” said Bret Fanshaw, State Advocate with Environment Arizona. “Thanks to the commitment of Arizona’s leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.”
Solar in the United States increased more than 120-fold in the last 10 years. In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all the new electric generation capacity installed in the United States. Arizona, along with the nine other states with the most solar installed per/capita, have 89% of the solar installed in the U.S, while, representing only 26 percent of the population and 20 percent of the electricity consumption.
“Arizona’s number one ranking in solar is an exciting accomplishment, reflecting support from a variety of Arizona’s leaders and demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit in a variety of businesses that formed to serve this market,” said Mark Holohan, President of the Board of Directors of the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association.
As the solar industry grows, the cost for installed solar decreases, making it more accessible. The price of installed solar systems fell 60 percent between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2013. Jobs in the solar industry are also growing rapidly. In 2013, there were more than 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., including 8,558 in Arizona.
“With our abundant sunshine and high electric use per household, we should be leading this market,” continued Holohan, who also serves as Solar Division Manager for Tempe-based Wilson Electric. “Our challenge going forward is to continue a healthy growth of solar adoption and not be content with lower goals for renewable energy than all our neighboring states.”
Another major driver for solar energy is that it produces no pollution; including climate-altering carbon emissions. According the report, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life-cycle and 91 percent less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.
“Recent progress here and in other leading solar states provides a path for other states to follow,” said Fanshaw. “If we maintain momentum, well reap the tremendous benefits of cleaner air and less carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels.”
Several strong policies adopted by the top 10 solar states, like Arizona helped encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar:”
- 9 states have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.
- 9 states 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.
All 10 states have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 8 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.
- 9 states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and 8 allow property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.
Here in Arizona, solar progress is attributed to a number of programs, including:
- A statewide renewable energy standard of 15% by 2025, including a 30% carve-out for rooftop solar.
- Local goals for renewable energy, including a 20% by 2025 goal recently set by the City of Tempe.
- Low-cost financing programs promoted by city governments, such as Solar Phoenix 1 & 2.
However, the report noted recent setbacks at the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) when it comes to solar energy. In early 2013, the ACC eliminated commercial solar incentives and reduced residential solar incentives. Last fall, the commission approved a plan promoted by the state’s major utility, Arizona Public Service, which increased costs of new solar systems to consumers. The commission is also considering proposals to eliminate the solar roof carve-out in the state renewable energy standard.
“While many Arizona officials deserve tremendous credit for recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of solar and taking action to make it a reality, we need more leaders to continue moving solar forward, not taking steps back to the old days of fossil fuel energy,” said Fanshaw. “As more people see the benefits of solar energy, we’re confident clean, limitless energy from the sun will be a growing part of Arizona’s plan to reduce pollution from power plants.”