Tucson Electric RFP highlights US community solar growth

Tucson Electric Power (TEP) is seeking bids for design and construction of a 100MW community-scale PV facility within its service area in southern Arizona, which will be among the largest US projects in a sector experiencing rapid growth.

GTM Research forecasts that the US will add 1.8GW of community solar during the next five years.

Developers would need to have the facility in full commercial operation in early 2019 and have completed a 20-year off-take agreement for the power with the utility. TEP notes that prices for solar power from utility-scale facilities under long-term PPAs are about one-quarter of what they were five years ago.

TEP says the project can either be built within its service area or tied into existing transmission facilities. Either way, it would boost the utility’s total community-scale solar energy resources by nearly 40%.

Arizona requires that investor-owned utilities such as TEP obtain 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2025. TEP aims to secure 30% by 2030. It anticipates procuring and producing an additional 800MW of new renewable capacity by then.

Community, or shared solar, pools investments from multiple members of a community and provides power and/or financial benefits in return. It is particularly popular with apartment dwellers who are prohibited from installing solar panels under lease agreements, but also companies that lack space for arrays and/or can’t put panels on rooftops.

Utilities provide their customers with the option to purchase renewable energy from a shared facility at fixed rates over extended periods. TEP enables residential customers to purchase solar power in “blocks” of 150/kWh per month..

“We’re working to provide more solar power for more customers for less money,” said Carmine Tilghman, senior director of energy supply and renewable energy at TEP.

Separately, TEP is also evaluating proposals submitted for a new 100MW wind-powered facility that would be built and owned by a project partner. According to the proposal, TEP would buy power from the new facility for up to 20 years, more than doubling its current wind-powered capacity of about 80 MW.

“Although we’ll primarily rely on solar energy to expand our renewable energy resources, the addition of new, cost-effective wind-powered resources would help to ensure reliability for our customers while further diversifying our renewable generation portfolio,” Tilghman said.

In a request for proposals, TEP states it is looking for projects that can tie into the company’s transmission facilities.