Arizona Utilities Making Solar Power Accessible

Solar energy is Arizona’s up and coming renewable resource, and the state’s energy companies are making good use of it.

In keeping with other states, Arizona’s energy companies are required to utilize renewable energy resources by the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff, or REST.

REST was approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2006 and took effect in 2007. It requires that Arizona utility companies produce 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, 30 percent of which must come from residential or commercial sources, according to the ACC website.

In order to comply, Arizona’s utilities implemented incentives and energy programs for customers who wish to use renewable energy to power their homes or businesses.

Arizona Public Service, a large electric company with 100,000 customers in the Phoenix area, and Tucson Electric Power, a company with 402,000 customers in the Tucson area, offer incentives for business and residential customers for services like solar water heaters, solar space heaters and solar panel systems, according to the APS and TEP websites.

Salt River Project, the country’s third-largest utility with 935,000 customers in the Phoenix metro area, similarly offers business and residential incentives for solar water heaters and solar panel installations, according to the SRP website.

 

Paul Huddy, director of Tucson Solar Alliance, a non-profit organization that works to improve consumer access to solar energy, said that Arizona is losing money by having to purchase energy from out-of-state.

“People have made the decision that we need to move on to solar because it makes all the sense in the world,” Huddy said.

Valerie Rauluk, the CEO of Venture Catalyst, Inc., a Tucson consulting firm with interest in solar projects, said that when energy is moved to a different location, some of that energy is lost in the process and using solar energy is a great way to prevent that from happening.

“If you ship energy from a location, even if it is just in Oro Valley, which is 20 miles away from us, you lose some of it,” Rauluk said.

Rauluk said that solar energy, while it poses some challenges, will have a lasting positive impact:

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The cost of solar energy is much less in Arizona than other states because of ample sunlight and solar radiation, according to a report from the 2009 Arizona Solar Energy and Economics Summit, an annual solar leadership summit in Arizona.

Also, the state has enough natural resources to be able to produce 15 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025, according to the report.

Solar power construction and management will add 32,000 jobs and $19.4 billion in overall wages to the Arizona economy by 2030, according to the report.

Solar power is also a very sustainable form of energy because by 2030, the industry will use a minimal amount of water and occupy 20.5 square miles of land. Solar power also creates fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels do, according to the report.

Solar energy may seem out of reach for some consumers due to the upfront costs.  With solar-for-purchase programs now being offered by Arizona’s main utility companies, more consumers will have access to solar power.

Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project all offer programs that allow consumers to purchase solar power for their home or business without installing solar panels on-site. Consumers can purchase the solar energy in blocks based on their energy use.

Tucson Electric Power’s program is called Bright Tucson Community Solar, and it began on Feb. 1, 2011, according to Joseph Barrios, a spokesman for the company.

TEP created the program as a response to customer interest in solar power, said Barrios.

“It’s another way that customers can support renewable energy,” Barrios said. “It’s an option, for example, for people who are renting a house or who live in apartments.”

The program is a good option for renters, but homeowners may also participate in the program, Barrios said.

According to the TEP website, participants in the program can purchase electricity in 150 kilowatt-hour blocks per month. A typical home can be powered with 6 blocks, or 900 kilowatt-hours monthly. Each block costs $3, which is added as a premium to their monthly electric bill.

In the TEP service area, there are 558 residential and six commercial participants, Barrios said.

The solar energy used for the program comes from the TEP-owned photovoltaic array structure on the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park campus in Tucson, according to the TEP website.

Although the community solar program does add a premium to the bill, it can save customers money in the long run because it waives two surcharges that non-participants have to pay monthly.

Additional benefits of the program include protection against future fuel price increases and the fact that system maintenance is not required, according to Barrios.

Ardeth Barnhart, program director for renewable energy at the Institute of the Environment, said that the program is beneficial to more than just residential customers:

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