There can be little doubt that the U.S. economy has taken a strong hit from the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Unemployment is still at levels not seen since the Great Depression and retail sales plunged a record 16.4% in April according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. One sector that has actually expanded during this economic turmoil? Renewable energy.
Recently, we’ve highlighted the impressive expansion of utility-scale renewable energy projects and the potential of new battery storage technologies. In April, for example, we highlighted the Tennessee Valley Authority’s and Alabama Power’s plans to add a combined 600 Megawatts of new solar combined with battery storage to their systems. These additions would increase solar with battery backup by a remarkable 66%. These announcements come on the heels of news from Florida Power and Light in April 2019 that its planned Manatee Energy Solar Storage Center would have four times the storage capacity of the world’s current largest battery system in Australia.
More projects are coming online, as well, despite the lingering effects of coronavirus. On May 11th, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Gemini development, the largest solar farm project in the United States. Situated approximately 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas, the $1 billion facility will eventually produce enough renewable electricity to power 260,000 homes. Like the TVA and Alabama Power solar projects, the Gemini project will also be coupled with a 380 Megawatt battery storage system. Ultimately, all of this electrical output will be purchased by Warren Buffett’s NV Energy.
Not to be outdone by Warren Buffett, Amazon announced last week that it would add another five projects to its already impressive renewable portfolio. Two of the projects will be based in Ohio and solar development will be added to its already robust complement of projects in Virginia. China and Australia will house the other two projects. In terms of the U.S.-based projects, the addition of another 410 Megawatts of renewable solar will be enough to power approximately 69,000 U.S. homes.
Our stance on solar power has been crystal clear as we’ve communicated with policymakers nationwide. Projects that make sense for all power customers should be welcomed. Those that don’t should face serious scrutiny.
With this principle in mind, we’ve highlighted the benefits of utility-scale solar projects for their ability to benefit all customers without unfairly shifting costs to some. As we explained in January of 2019, “Energy Fairness has been consistent in advocating for energy solutions that make sense for families and businesses. This focus has meant resisting the urge to focus on “shiny objects” that look good, but might make little sense for customers.”
Studies have shown that on a dollar–for–dollar basis, utility-scale renewable projects are approximately half the cost of their distributed generation counterparts and “…avoids approximately 50% more carbon emissions than an equivalent amount of residential-scale PV solar.”
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with rooftop solar power. Customers should have the right to pursue rooftop-based systems, whether they completely withdraw from the power grid or remain tied to it for those times when they need it. But they should do so in a policymaking and rate design environment where they pay their fair share for use of the grid and aren’t compensated by net metering policies that are overly generous and unfair to other customers. Policymakers should also be mindful that rooftop developers and installers aren’t compensated excessively for their role in rooftop solar deployment and that instances of fraud are met with harsh consequences.
The deployment of additional power resources that benefit customers is a good thing. Especially in the midst of a pandemic that has caused so much bad news, a thriving sector is reason to be grateful. As renewable deployment continues to grow, it is important for policymakers to keep a sharp focus on customers and ensuring that fairness, reliability, and affordability remain top priorities.