Utility regulators are wrestling with how much of a premium to charge energy customers for using solar or other renewable energy sources, the Arizona Republic reported Sunday. For the first time in several years, no large solar plants are being built in Arizona and the number of rooftop-solar installations is down.
Experts predict the solar market nationwide to grow by one-third this year, compared to 2013. The Solar Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., reports that 24,000 jobs were added to the field last year. But growth in Arizona and four other states declined somewhat with jobs now being lost.
In Arizona, the renewable-energy standard mandates utilities get 15 percent of their energy from solar and other renewables by 2025. That is the lowest standard of the eight most populous Western states.
The additional costs related to utilizing alternative energy have been the subject of heated debate among regulators, utility officials and consumers. Utilities such as the Arizona Public Service Co. said they are meeting the mandates to use alternative energy, leading to fewer solar installations.
“Arizona is already a high-penetration solar state, more so in APS territory than utilities in Colorado and Nevada,” APS spokeswoman Jenna Shaver said. “When we talk about increasing something, we can’t discount the complexity associated with integrating the existing resources intelligently and cost-effectively.”
Advocates for renewable energy have been calling on Arizona to raise the standard, which would facilitate more development.
“There is no reason why Arizona cannot have a larger renewable-energy standard,” said Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C. “The neighboring states have placed a priority on developing renewable projects for their energy portfolio, and we encourage Arizona to do the same.”
But regulators argue the customers would end up bearing the burden of rising power bills. Furthermore, other states can meet their renewable energy standard through wind power and natural gas.
“These other states have more diverse resources,” Shaver said. “California and Nevada have more geothermal and wind. We are very solar-heavy. It paints a different picture.”