By Carmine Tilghman
Special to the Arizona Daily Star, January 29, 2015
Evidence of Tucson Electric Power’s commitment to renewable energy isn’t hard to find.
Visit the Solar Zone at the University of Arizona Tech Park, where solar projects built from competing technologies cover 165 acres and produce a combined 23 megawatts of energy for TEP. Drive northwest to Avra Valley, where two giant solar arrays produce a combined 60 MW for TEP. Or head south to Green Valley, where a new 35-MW solar array serving TEP customers came online in December.
You could also simply visit your local government office, since TEP provides both the city of Tucson and Pima County with energy from local solar arrays through our Bright Tucson Community Solar Program.
These and other resources provide TEP with nearly 330 MW of total renewable generating capacity, enough to meet the annual electric needs of more than 71,000 homes. We’re also unveiling a pair of innovative projects this year that represent new ways to partner with our customers to achieve our community’s renewable energy objectives.
Next month, we’ll unveil the largest solar power system based on a U.S. military installation, a nearly 18-MW array at Fort Huachuca. Later this year, we’ll install solar arrays on up to 600 local homes through the new TEP residential solar program.
Like all of our solar power projects, these two new efforts are designed to expand our resources without imposing undue costs on our customers.
While we all look forward to the day when all of our power can come from the sun, TEP must ensure that electric service remains affordable, reliable and safe as we transition to newer, more sustainable resources.
We must also abide by economic realities and proven facts, including the higher cost and lower reliability of solar power.
Such concerns do not burden everyone who takes an interest in energy issues. Last week, a Terry Finefrock (“Economic development: Start with a Tucson microgrid,” Jan. 23) offered a series of misleading assertions about energy costs and issues.
I’d like to provide some clarity on a few key points.
* The energy costs and related assertions were inaccurate, in part because the author cited the projected cost of new facilities rather than actual costs. TEP’s existing coal resources produced power at about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour in 2014 — not 12.5 cents, as the author claimed.
* Cost comparisons of renewable and conventional resources must account for the fact that renewables operate intermittently, requiring the ongoing support of other utility resources. When those additional costs are considered — as they must be — renewable power is shown to be far more expensive than other resources.
* Energy-storage systems are not yet capable or cost-effective enough to provide an alternative to the constant support and backup capabilities of a utility’s local electric grid.
In urging local governments to develop their own solar power and energy storage resources, the author seeks to subject taxpayers to steep capital expenses as well as significantly higher energy costs.
Because private solar power systems often reduce customers’ bills below the cost TEP incurs to serve them, these unpaid costs must be recovered through higher rates borne largely by customers without solar power systems.
If local governments sought to secure all of their power through third-party renewable resources, as Finefrock suggests, they would remain dependent on TEP’s local grid while shifting the cost of paying for it to other local residents — the very people whose interests they seek to serve.
No responsible public servant would advocate such a position, and neither would we.
I’m proud of TEP’s efforts to provide affordable solar energy solutions for our community.
We will continue to work with local leaders under the oversight of the Arizona Corporation Commission to provide innovative, cost-effective programs that serve our customers’ evolving energy needs.
Carmine Tilghman is senior director of wholesale, fuels and renewable energy for Tucson Electric Power. Contact him at email@example.com