EPA climate rule could boost solar, wind in Ariz. — study

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2015

A new study says Arizona could meet carbon-cutting goals in U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan simply by developing the state’s abundant and already available solar and wind power resources over the next 15 years.

What’s more, the 46-pageĀ study, conducted by the Tucson, Ariz.-based Sonoran Institute and researchers with Arizona State University, reports there are at least 15 large-scale solar and wind projects with the capacity to produce 2,032 megawatts of electricity that are already in some stage of the federal or state permitting process.

Many of these projects, which in total could produce enough electricity to power 600,000 homes, would move quickly toward construction if Arizona’s public utilities would sign power purchase agreements (PPAs) to buy the electricity produced by these solar and wind projects, the study says.

The study — titled “Gliding Toward a Clean Energy Future: Arizona Responds to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan” — also analyzes a potential build-out scenario, identifying areas where solar and wind projects could be developed to produce another 2,300 MW of electricity.

“The report for the first time provides a detailed road map for developing the most promising renewable energy projects and locations across Arizona both for generating and transmitting power from solar and wind,” said John Shepard, the Sonoran Institute’s senior director of programs and one of the study’s authors.

Most of the development would be focused in western Arizona, which is already a target of solar power developers “due to the quality of solar resources, the proximity to markets in Arizona and California, the existing and planned transmission capacity, and a diversity of lands suitable for large-scale renewable development,” according to the study.

The study lists 15 large-scale solar and wind projects in the region that “have the potential to be ‘shovel ready’ within two years.”

These projects, which “have either completed most of the necessary planning and permitting requirements or are sufficiently advanced in their planning and permitting,” would have the capacity to displace 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, the study says.

The Clean Power Plan would require Arizona to cut its carbon emissions rate 34 percent below 2012 levels by 2030.

The listed projects include BP Wind Energy North America Inc.’s 500 MW Mohave County Wind Farm, NextEra Energy Resources’ 300 MW Sonoran Solar Energy Project and SolarReserve’s 100 MW Quartzsite Solar Energy Project.

The study says the 15 projects would have an estimated total capacity to produce 2,032 MW of electricity and could be put into operation in the next seven years, allowing the state to meet interim carbon reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan by 2022.

These projects plus those identified in the build-out scenario could produce 4,312 MW — nearly enough to allow the state to meet its Clean Power Plan emission reduction requirements by 2030.

Arizona is among a coalition of 27 states that filed a lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan final rule. But many of those states, including Arizona, are also working on required state plans detailing how they will comply with the rule (ClimateWire, Nov. 9).

Renewable energy potential gives Arizona an advantage in that there’s little doubt its abundant solar and wind resources could help the state reduce its carbon emissions. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory rates southern and western Arizona as having some of the nation’s best solar power potential.

But none of the 15 projects outlined in the latest study have power purchase agreements with utilities to buy the power they would produce. Without such agreements, the study says, “these projects are not likely to go forward,” even though projects like Quartzsite Solar already have been approved by the Bureau of Land Management.

This could drive renewables developers to sell their power to other states like California, resulting in Arizona squandering an opportunity to comply with the rule, Shepard said.

That’s what happened earlier this year, Shepard said, when Sempra U.S. Gas & Power LLC entered into a PPA with Southern California Edison to sell the electricity produced from a 100 MW expansion of its Mesquite Solar complex in Arlington, Ariz.

“That’s exactly what we don’t want to see happen,” Shepard said. “It’s all good in the sense that it’s going to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, but I’d like to see Arizona take advantage of its solar resources to meet its clean power goals.”

CPP a ‘policy driver’

Arizona certainly has the available land to accommodate the renewable energy build-out scenario outlined in the study.

Indeed, the study notes the 121,144 acres of land managed by BLM and Arizona state trust lands “that meet the initial size and screening criteria applied in our parcel selection have a total capacity of 17,306 MW.”

While the study notes that a small fraction of that would ever be developed, these sites include three federally designated solar energy zones and numerous other renewable energy development areas that BLM identified as having low resource conflicts.

The Clean Power Plan “is a potential new policy driver” that could push demand for renewable energy in the state. The study notes the rule’s emissions guidelines for coal-fired power plants and natural gas combined-cycle units, and that one option to meet the goals in the rule “is for electricity generation facilities that exceed the emissions guidelines to come into compliance by acquiring emissions reduction credits from [renewable energy] resources in Arizona.”

Certainly, members of the renewable energy industry appear to agree.

“As the Sonoran Institute’s study underscores, the Clean Power Plan opens up new opportunities for us to invest further in the state,” said Jason Du Terroil, senior business developer for Iberdrola Renewables and an adviser to the study

But Mahesh Morjaria, First Solar Inc.’s vice president of systems development, said any increase in renewables in the state is a reflection not only of the rule but also of “what is already occurring in the energy sector.”

“Due to reduced costs, solar and wind generation have become increasingly competitive with other energy sources, driving the growth of these carbon-free generation assets,” Morjaria said.