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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA sells solar to Tucson

Two individual thin film solar cells produced in the lab of Neal Armstrong, Ph.D., head of the UA Energy Frontier Research Center.
Two individual thin film solar cells produced in the lab of Neal Armstrong, Ph.D., head of the UA Energy Frontier Research Center.

With a new 1.6-megawatt tracking array, allowing customers to buy blocks of solar energy, the UA houses Tucson Electric Power’s largest solar energy source.

The Bright Tucson Community Solar Program debuted the community solar panel last month and plans to parcel out 150 kilowatt-hour energy blocks to customers who purchase all or some of their energy using this option. The operation is based out of the UA’s Science and Technology Park.

“”The idea came about because we were looking for a way to make solar energy available to customers who did not have the opportunity or the money to put solar panels on their rooftop,”” said Joe Salkowski, spokesman for the Tucson Electric Power Company.

The $6.7 million system produces 1,600 solar blocks that would service around 266 of the more than 210,000 in the city. Six solar blocks, on average, power one household.

“”Tucson can become a real leader in the solar energy industry,”” said Bruce Wright, associate vice president for University Research Parks. In the next four years, the park hopes to produce more renewable energy for the city than the facility itself uses.

A ‘Solar Zone’ was established at the park a year ago, after BP Alternative Energy asked to buy a portion for a 1,000-acre solar farm, Wright said.

The partnership between the UA and the Tucson Electric Power Company began, as companies proposing the land at the park as a viable area for solar development, last August.

“”We have been working with the Tech Park to develop the ‘Solar Zone.’ We talked with Bruce Wright and others, and understood what they were hoping to create there,”” Salkowski said.

The Arizona Corporation Commission set the rates for solar energy and the prices will be locked in at these rates for 20 years.

“”The program is a great option for students who want to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint,”” Salkowski said. “”If you are living in an apartment, you don’t really have the opportunity to install solar panels, but you do have the option to participate in this program and to support green power sources.””

The Tucson Electric Power Company plans to expand their solar energy production through 2014 to cover 222 acres of land in and outside the park. The next move is a 5-megawatt array, which could be built on land owned by the Tucson Airport Authority, he said.

This move also aids company compliance with Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard, which requires Arizona electric utilities to produce more and more renewable power until it represents 15 percent of their energy in 2025.

The program is non-transferrable between houses. Participants must wait a year to receive credit for solar energy purchased if it exceeds monthly electric use, as the expectation is credits accumulated in low energy-use months during the winter will be utilized in high energy-use summer months, Salkowski said.

The Tucson Electric Power Company converts any remaining energy credits into credit against customers’ bills. Customers who cancel program participation will also be credited for unused energy on their next bill.

Wright said campus initiatives have been limited to in-house solar panels such as those on top of the Second Street Parking Garage and the pool at the Student Recreation Center, but discussion of adopting a similar method to power buildings on the UA campus “”is under active consideration.””

“”The Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Group, and the university, and our public utility and the Tech Park have all joined together to put Tucson at the forefront of solar energy research and development,”” Wright said of the program. “”It’s going to provide job opportunities for UA graduates, energy for the people of the Valley … It’s bold and important and it’s very exciting for the community.””

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