Arizona Schools Get Solar Energy

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A new solar plant in Florence has started churning out power for nearly one dozen Phoenix-area school districts and will soon be available to residential customers who don't want to hassle with rooftop solar panels.

Salt River Project said the new 20-megawatt Copper Crossing Solar Ranch is part of the utility's effort to ramp up production of renewable-energy sources.

SRP buys electricity generated by the new plant under a long-term contract with Iberdrola Renewables, which owns and operates the plant on Bella Vista Road in Florence.

SRP said the new power plant, which began producing power last month, will be used to provide electricity for its community solar program that provides fixed-rate solar power for schools and residential customers.

So far, 11 metro Phoenix school districts have signed agreements to get solar power through the program. These school districts have agreed to pay an average rate of 9.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. Though the solar rate is more expensive than the average rate of 8.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, the program's rate will not change for 10 years.

"That is attractive for schools as they control their energy costs," said Lori Singleton, who manages SRP's community solar program.

Singleton said that SRP also is beginning to sign up homeowners who want to purchase solar power but do not want to, or cannot, set up rooftop solar panels.

Like the school districts, residential customers will pay slightly more under the solar program than the average paid by all SRP customers. Still, the residential customers will be offered a fixed rate over five years, Singleton said.

Residential customers will be able to purchase "blocks" of energy that equal about 2,500 kilowatt-hours. Over a month, the typical household would need three to four such blocks to meet about half their energy needs with the balance coming from a mixture of all energy sources.

Singleton said it's too early to tell how popular the program will be among residential customers. SRP recently began selling the residential blocks and plans to bolster its marketing effort this month. If the demand for the pilot program is strong, Singleton said that SRP could expand it.

"We expect there will be large interest among our customers who want solar," Singleton said.

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