Phoenix earns berth in “solar sweet sixteen”

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Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center

PHOENIX – With more solar panels than most major American cities, Phoenix ranks 3rd among dozens of metropolitan areas analyzed in a new report.

Phoenix’s berth in the “solar sweet sixteen,” ranked behind Los Angeles and San Diego and just ahead of Indianapolis and San Jose, was owed to successful implementation of Solar Phoenix 1 and 2 projects to encourage residential rooftop solar, large solar installations at Sky Harbor International Airport and the VA Medical Center, and implementation of city and state renewable energy standards, advocates said today.

“Phoenix is a star when it comes to solar power,” said Environment Arizona Solar Program Coordinator Bret Fanshaw. “In the face of opposition from major utilities and some state decision makers, cities like Phoenix are helping to set a shining example.”

Solar power is on the rise across the country, with another panel or project installed every three minutes last year. Plummeting costs, increasing public concern over global warming and energy independence, and technological innovation have all played a role in spurring the growth of the pollution-free energy source.

As population centers, cities are home to large electricity markets, and can have an important influence on the way grids are powered. Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski said solar power has grown in Phoenix in part due to the city’s commitment to clean energy leadership.

“The city of Phoenix has been a committed leader in promoting and encouraging sustainable energy choices and this report confirms that our efforts are working,” said Councilman Nowakowski. “Solar electricity use in Phoenix already is making our air cleaner, reducing our dependence on imported energy and driving a major industry that’s a great source of quality jobs.”

According to researchers who examined solar power installations in 65 American cities in nearly every state, Phoenix had enough solar energy online at the end of last year to power just over 14,600 homes.

While solar power is growing in Arizona and throughout the nation, utility companies are campaigning intensely to increase fees for rooftop solar, which they see as a direct threat to their business model. Salt River Project (SRP) recently approved a “demand charge” for new solar energy customers, which advocates said would equate to an extra $50 per month charge for a solar home in SRP territory, including parts of Phoenix.

“It is unfortunate that in the face of solar progress from Arizona cities like Phoenix, utility companies are undervaluing solar energy with new rate plans and fees targeted at solar energy users,” said Fanshaw. “The more homes and buildings that use solar energy, the more we can avoid new and expensive fossil fuel power plants that also contribute to global warming and diminished public health, making solar energy a valuable investment for our communities in the short and long term.”