- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Solar power in the United States grew to make up more than one-third of all new generation for the first nine months of 2014.

Nationwide commercial installations grew in 2014 compared to the previous two years, according to U.S. Solar Market Insight, a quarterly report of a solar trade group and Greentech Media Co.

However, Oklahoma lags behind national and regional trends.

Investment tax credits, changes in utility rate structures and greenhouse gas regulations are driving demand for more solar power in most states, according to the report. The Solar Energy Industries Association, which co-authored the market study, estimates solar voltaic installations will grow 36 percent more than in 2013.

Yet commercial solar projects are nearly nonexistent in Oklahoma. One major obstacle is the upfront capital cost for utility-scale solar relative to wind energy and natural gas, said Steve Wilke, business development manager for Norman-based Delta Energy + Design.

The majority of his customers are residential or rural, he told The Journal Record (https://bit.ly/1DmBn4L).

Oklahoma receives enough sunshine to produce nearly 5 kilowatts per square meter per day in the eastern third of the state, and as much as 7 kilowatts per square meter per day in the Panhandle, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Texas has a similar potential, according to EIA data.

Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar completed the first merchant solar project in the U.S. The 23-megawatt-per-day-capacity project in Texas sells electricity wholesale into a power market rather than to a utility. Texas saw more than 80 megawatts of solar installations by the third quarter of 2014, with about 70 megawatts coming from utility installations, the Solar Market Insight report found.

Though more than 15 percent of electric power in the Sooner State is generated from renewable energy sources, it’s mostly from large-scale wind farms, and hydroelectric power to a lesser extent.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission compiles a report on the state’s power portfolio for its renewable portfolio goal. Because there is no commercial solar power, the agency doesn’t track production from residential rooftop power, OCC Spokesman Matt Skinner said.

Public Service Company of Oklahoma reported that about 200 of its estimated 540,000 customers, or less than 1 percent, have distributed power, mostly from solar panels.

The Delaware Nation has a 37.5-kilowatt solar installation on the tribe’s headquarters in Anadarko, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The system provides about one-third of electricity on the complex.

Expensive electricity rates drive demand for solar installations in other states, Wilke said. Relative to the nation, Oklahoma’s utility rates are low. And due to the way the state’s utility tariffs are structured, solar power doesn’t reduce peak power prices, just overall demand for electricity, Wilke said.

Though Oklahoma may not have commercial projects soon, it’s becoming easier and cheaper for individual households to get solar systems, Wilke said.

He calculated the payback costs for one customer who could obtain a Federal Housing Administration loan for a solar system. The customer’s electricity costs were cut in half, and net payments were about $25 per month for six years, subtracting the value of reduced energy use and tax benefits of the FHA loan, he said. The payback for solar systems is now about 10 years, rather than 20 years, he said.

The investment could be particularly attractive to the agricultural market because a farm owner can depreciate the cost of solar panels like any other kind of farm equipment, he said.

“This is a great place where Oklahomans can get smart,” Wilke said.


Information from: The Journal Record, https://www.journalrecord.com

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