US: 32 GW utility-scale solar pipeline under development ahead of 2017 ITC deadline

Based on its latest Solar Deal Tracker, IHS says more than 32 MW of utility-scale solar projects – over 5 MW in size – are currently under development or construction in the U.S. as companies hurry to complete them before the ITC deadline on December 31, 2016. In a report, also released today, the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research backup this analysis.

Companies within the deadline will benefit from a 30% tax break. If it is not extended, and this looks likely says IHS, the Federal ITC for commercial and utility solar projects will drop to 10% in 2017. "Completion of these projects prior to the deadline could be crucial to ensure financial viability," it added.

At 44%, California, the leading solar state, with an installed capacity of 8.65 GW, is expected to benefit from the bulk of the pipeline. North Carolina, however is likely to see 19% of the anticipated 32 GW installed across the state, while it is anticipated that 7% will be installed in Texas.

Under a supply deal announced in April with South Korean PV module manufacturer, Hanwha Q Cells, NextEra has indicated it will install 1.5 GW across a number of states, including California, Georgia, Florida, and Hawaii, by the fourth quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, Canadian Solar’s recent US$265 million acquisition of Recurrent Energy has significantly boosted its U.S. solar pipeline.

Seven late-stage projects have now come under the company’s umbrella, adding 1 GW of soon-to-be-completed capacity chiefly in the states of California and Texas. The projects have pre-approved power purchase agreements (PPAs) in place with what the company terms "investment grade counterparties."

Challenges

In addition to projects under development and/or construction, a number of companies are also aiming to start new projects before the deadline, the majority of which appear to be within the 20 to 100 MW range, says IHS.

While the news is positive, IHS cautions that all will not be plain sailing. Permitting and approval delays can still be expected, and power off takers must also be secured, if the projects are to be operational by December 31, 2016.

"Some areas in California are plagued with contentious environmental issues, from Native American Tribes fearing the removal or destruction of artifacts from their ancestral homeland to environmental issues," says IHS. It adds that work on the 150 MW Imperial Solar Energy Center West, located in California’s Imperial Valley, halted for a few weeks "when the flat-tailed horned lizard became a possible candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act."

Helping pave the path for expedited solar projects are the Bureau of Land Management’s designated Solar Energy Zones (SEZ), which were introduced in 2012 to speed up permitting processes. A total of 17 SEZ were identified at the time, covering 285,000 acres across Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Overall, it was estimated that a total deployment of 23.7 GW of renewable energy from the 17 zones would be possible.

"Other projects in less optimal areas will eventually be completed, but possibly not before the deadline, which seems to have affected priorities and caused a saturation of PV projects in certain areas," continues IHS.

pv magazine has contacted IHS for more information.