Arizona leads US in per capita solar


A new report published by the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center shows that the U.S. state of Arizona now leads the nation in solar electricity capacity per capita, but recent moves by the state's utility regulator may rein its recent progress.

With 167 W of solar capacity per resident, Arizona boasts nearly seven times as much solar capacity per person as the national average, according to the report, "Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America's Top 12 Solar States."

The report points out that Arizona's solar energy success is due in part to its early commitment to solar energy – it was the first state to require utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from solar energy.

Arizona also ranks second in the nation (behind California) in large, utility-scale solar energy projects. As of May 2013, Arizona had 633 MW of utility-scale solar energy capacity, with another 495 MW under construction.

However, the report warns that Arizona's continued status as a solar energy leader is in doubt after the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), the state's utility regulator, voted to eliminate tax incentives for businesses that install solar panels and to reduce incentives for residential solar customers. The ACC also considered a proposal to weaken the state’s renewable electricity standard. As a result, Arizona risks its ranking as the state with the greatest amount of solar electricity capacity per person – as well as the 9,800 solar industry jobs that have made it the leading state in terms of solar jobs per capita.

In addition to Arizona, the top five leading states with the highest solar per capita include Nevada, with 146 W per person, Hawaii (137 W), New Jersey (110 W), New Mexico (91 W). California, the country’s most populous state with nearly 40 million residents, ranks sixth with 76 W per person.

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The remaining top 12 states in solar capacity per capita include Delaware (69 W per person), Colorado (52 W), Vermont (34 W), Massachusetts (30 W), North Carolina (23 W) and Maryland (19 W).

Of the 12 leading states, 11 boast strong net metering policies, which compensate consumers at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid. "Net metering ensures that consumers receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid," the report says.

While California may trail other less populous states when it comes to per-capita solar capacity, it leads the nation in total solar electricity capacity with more than 2.9 GW – more than a third of the nation's total. Arizona, with 1.097 GW, New Jersey (971 MW), Nevada (403 MW) and Colorado (270 MW) round out the top five for total solar electricity capacity.

The United States has seen a dramatic rise in solar energy generation in recent years. The country’s photovoltaic capacity has increased threefold since 2010 and more than 10 times as much as in 2007, according to the report.

In the first three months of 2013, solar power accounted for nearly half of the new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. The price of solar energy is also falling rapidly in the U.S. The cost of installed solar energy systems fell by 27% during 2012, on top of a 20% decline between the beginning of 2010 and the end of 2011.

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