Arizona Utility Picks Up Solar Installation Pace

If solar power is going to be big in the United States, it better be big in sun-drenched Arizona. And it’s getting there.

The state’s largest electricity utility, Arizona Public Service, said last week that it added a record 148 megawatts of solar capacity in 2012, impressive enough on its own. But in 2013, new capacity should come in at more than twice that figure.

solana generating station

Solana Generating Station in Arizona (image via Edgar A. Gunther/Gunther Portfolio)

“APS will have more than 600 MW of solar on the system by the end of 2013, generating enough electricity to serve 150,000 customers,” Don Brandt, APS chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “This puts us well on pace to meet the Arizona Renewable Energy Standard, which calls for APS to get 15 percent of our power from renewable sources by 2025.”

During 2012, Arizona passed New Jersey as No. 2 in the U.S. in installed solar capacity, with 1,097 MW as of the end of the year. (California was at 2,902 and New Jersey was at 971).

Much of the new APS capacity expected to arrive this year will come from one huge plant – the 250 MW Solana Generating Station, from which APS will purchase 100 percent of the power.

Solana is owned by the Spanish company Abengoa, which received a $1.45 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee to help build the project, located about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix outside the town of Gila Bend.

Unlike most of the new, smaller utility stuff popping up in Arizona, Solana  is a concentrating solar power plant – not PV. As such, it offers the possibility of employing storage technology to shift energy from low-demand periods to peak demand periods – and it will do just that, with six-hours of molten salt storage.

Big as that plant will be, APS does have a diversity of projects either already built or on the way. Last year it added 24 MW under its AZ Sun program, including the 19-MW Chino Valley Solar Plant and the final 5 MW of the Hyder I Solar Plant. Thos which are owned and operated by APS as part of the AZ Sun program. APS owns and operates those plants, and it also did power purchase agreements to purchase 15 MW from SunEdison’s Saddle Mountain Solar Power Plant.

But most of the solar added in 2012 — 83 MW “came from customers installing systems on their homes and businesses,” APS said. “More than 7,500 did so last year, compared with fewer than 6,000 total installations in 2011.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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