The new 1.6-megawatt (MW) tracking array was developed for TEP by Tucson-based SOLON Corp. in the Solar Zone at the University of Arizona’s Science and Technology Park in southeast Tucson. The array is now TEP’s largest local solar resource, though much larger systems are already being planned for the Solar Zone and other regional sites.
“This system is the first of more than a dozen local solar projects that will be built over the next few years to help us take full advantage of southern Arizona’s most abundant renewable energy resource,” said Paul Bonavia, Chairman, President and CEO of TEP and its parent company, UniSource Energy (NYSE: UNS).
The system’s output will be sold directly to customers through TEP’s new Bright Tucson Community Solar program. Beginning Feb. 1, energy from the array will be available in 150 kilowatt-hour (kWh) “blocks” that will add $3 apiece to monthly bills. TEP customers can purchase some or all of their energy through the program, reducing or eliminating their use of conventional power for an affordable price.
“Anyone who wants to power their home or business with solar energy can simply stake their claim on the output of this new, local solar power system,” Bonavia said. “While investing in your own rooftop PV system is still a great option, the Bright Tucson Community Solar program offers an easy, affordable way to go green by essentially sharing a solar array with the rest of our community.”
Because solar power costs more than energy from traditional resources, participating in the program will increase customers’ electric bills – at least for now. Each block replaces an equivalent amount of conventional power at a rate that will remain fixed for 20 years under rules approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). That means participants can lock in a steady supply of green power at a price that could generate significant savings if the cost of fossil fueled power increases.
“The program is perfect for renters, property owners whose rooftops aren’t fully exposed to the sun or anyone who wants the benefits of solar energy without the up-front cost or complications,” said David Hutchens, Vice President of Energy Efficiency and Resource Planning for TEP and UniSource Energy.
The 1.6 MW system unveiled today will produce enough power to make 1,600 “blocks” available to TEP customers. Additional blocks will become available as TEP expands its local solar generating resources. The company will invest $28 million this year in such systems and has proposed similar plans over the following three years at a level that would result in new capacity totaling 28 MW – enough energy to fully power nearly 4,500 Tucson homes.
TEP also is planning to purchase the output of 10 new utility-scale solar power systems planned for development in the Tucson area. Those systems, which range in size from 2 MW to 35 MW, would combine with TEP’s company owned resources to create more than 160 MW of combined solar generating capacity by the end of 2014. That’s enough power to serve more than 25,000 Tucson homes.
TEP’s largest existing solar resource remains the Springerville Generating Station Solar System, which was expanded last year from 4.6 MW to 6.4 MW. The system, located near TEP’s largest coal-fired power plant in Eastern Arizona, generates enough power to serve more than 1,000 Tucson homes.
“Our Springerville system has been producing clean renewable power for more than a decade now, and it helped establish TEP as a solar power pioneer,” Bonavia said. “As we move forward, though, we’re going to focus on dramatically expanding our solar resources in Southern Arizona.”
The 1.6 MW array unveiled today features SOLON’s Velocity MW Solar System, which provides preconfigured modular solar fields specifically designed to help utilities quickly scale to capacity. The system incorporates 11 single axis trackers, utilizing 5,808 275-watt high-efficiency solar modules manufactured in the U.S. at the company’s Tucson facility.
“Our Velocity MW system brings utility partners like TEP fast, reliable solar energy,” said Dan Alcombright, Regional Vice President and General Manager at SOLON. “We commend TEP for integrating solar into their programs using solar panels manufactured locally in Tucson. Together, both SOLON and TEP are committed to supporting the local Tucson community with job creation and a sustainable future.”
The system will be joined by five other solar power systems planned for development in the Solar Zone, where solar industries, research and demonstration projects are coming together on a single 200-acre site. Planned systems include two 2 MW concentrating PV systems, a 4 MW tracking PV array, a 5 MW fixed PV array and a 5 MW concentrating solar thermal plant with integrated storage.
“The UA and Tucson Electric Power have a common interest in leveraging solar technology and innovation for the benefit of the region,” said UA President Robert N. Shelton. “We realize there is great long-term economic potential for job creation in southern Arizona if we can be at the forefront of creating new, advanced technology for use in the solar sector.”
“This project provides the ability to explore new energy strategies and advance new applications for solar. This unique cooperation between TEP and UA is consistent with our goals of innovative research that will benefit all Arizonans,” Shelton said.
TEP’s solar energy resources help the company comply with Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES), which requires Arizona utilities to increase their use of renewable power each year until it represents 15 percent of their energy in 2025. In 2011, the policy calls on TEP to secure 3 percent of its power from renewables, including solar energy, wind, biogas and other resources.
TEP provides safe, reliable power to more than 400,000 customers in southern Arizona. For more information about the Bright Tucson Community Solar program or other details about the company, visit tep.com. To learn more about parent company UniSource Energy, visit uns.com.