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Solar Power was the Fastest Growing Utility Generation Source in 2011

SEPA findings show utilities doubled new solar power additions compared to 2010

Key Findings:

  • More than 62,000 new interconnected PV systems integrated by utilities in 2011
  • New solar power capacity increased 120 percent over 2010
  • Utilities proactively owning and contracting for more solar power
  • Much of growth in Eastern United States

In 2011, utilities interconnected more than 62,000 PV systems of all sizes, according to new findings by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). These new systems resulted in almost 1,500 megawatts of new utility solar capacity, more than twice as much as was added in 2010, which itself had been a record year. Both the number of systems and the percentage of growth make solar electricity the fastest growing electric source in the U.S. in 2011.

“In addition to the photovoltaic systems added by customers and third-party producers, much of the growth has come from the direct actions of utilities,” says Julia Hamm, SEPA President and CEO. The findings show that 39 percent of new solar capacity came from utilities owning or contracting for solar power. Large solar projects, greater than 10 megawatts each, represent the bulk of this capacity.

“This is a marked shift from a few years ago, when customer-owned, net-metered systems dominated installed solar generation,” says Ms. Hamm. “Today, utilities are taking a greater role in the expansion of solar power in the United States.”

Much of this dramatic growth took place not just in the Southwest, traditionally the leader in solar power, but also in eastern states, and it took place on the systems of municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives, as well as investor-owned utilities.

The findings of SEPA’s annual Utility Solar Rankings survey identify the most active utilities in the country based on the amount of new solar power they added to their systems, and on the amount of new solar power relative to the number of customers they serve.

Altogether, the Top 10 utilities reported adding more than 1,000 megawatts of solar electricity capacity in 2011. Overall, more than 240 utilities surveyed reported nearly 1,500 megawatts of new solar, equivalent to about six natural gas power plants.

For the fourth straight year, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), in northern California, led all utilities in the most new solar energy added to its grid with 288 megawatts. A New Jersey utility, Public Service Electric & Gas Co., secured the No. 2 spot with 181 megawatts in 2011. It took at least 45 megawatts to make the Top 10 list in 2011, more than double the minimum amount needed the previous year. Other highlights from the survey:

Four East Coast utilities earned spots in the Top 10 for new solar energy added, showing that solar power is spreading far beyond its original concentration in the southwestern part of the U.S.

In 2011, public power utilities returned to the Top 10 after none made it in 2010, with Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) ranking Nos. 7 and 9 respectively.

For the first time, a New Mexico utility made the Top 10 list, with Southwestern Public Service (Xcel Energy-NM) jumping from the No. 56 spot in 2010 to No. 10 in 2011.

On a watts-per-customer basis, Vineland Municipal Electric Utility (NJ) took the top spot. A newcomer to the Top 10 list, the New Jersey municipal utility ranked first nationally with an unprecedented 769 watts-per-customer after integrating approximately 19 megawatts of PV for their nearly 25,000 customers. Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (GA) and Fayetteville Public Utilities (TN) jumped up the list, ranking Nos. 2 and 3 respectively. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is the sole rural electric cooperative utility in either of this year’s Top 10 lists.

“SEPA’s findings clearly show that utilities with growing solar resources represent a cross-section of the industry – investor-owned, municipal and rural electric cooperative utilities, large and small, from coast to coast,” says Ms. Hamm. “Their success is showing that solar can be a generation resource today for virtually any utility.”

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