The Sun Powers Arizona’s High Country

Arizona’s high country is home to the growing community of Flagstaff and is known for the San Francisco Peaks, the volcanic fields of Sunset Crater, thick forests of ponderosa pines, and fantastic summer weather.   However, Flagstaff also possesses another valuable quality – 300 days bright sunshine each year.  It is this quality that provided the impetus for Arizona Public Service’s (APS) Community Power Project.

The Community Power Project is a unique endeavor conducted in the Doney Park area of Flagstaff meant to increase the deployment of renewable energy, especially distributed energy generated from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. APS plans to install 1.5 megawatts (MW) of solar energy in an area that includes about 3,000 homes and businesses.  The distributed nature of the project consists of homeowners and businesses, located throughout the pilot area, who will host PV systems of various sizes on their roof tops.  Approximately 200 homes, selected through an application process, and local businesses that use at least 50 kW annually, will be contracted for the new PV systems.

The resulting effect of these many solar installations is a mini power plant providing power within a single feeder area (Sanvig 4).  Instead of providing power directly to each home or business, the solar systems send the energy generated directly to the grid.  APS will own, manage and maintain the PV systems, as well as study the complete system to determine the impact of a high concentration of solar power on one distribution system in regards to reliability, operations, and maintenance.  These issues have long been of concern for utility companies nationwide.

The project includes the Doney Park Renewable Energy site which is a small solar PV power facility located on 10 acres of vacant land owned by APS.  The 500-700 kW facility, located on the east side of Highway 89 will include several rows of single-axis tracking PV panels, and has the potential to provide nearly a third of the project’s renewable energy.  It also includes a 400 kW non-residential system to be installed on the Cromer Elementary School.

Homeowners and businesses who participate in the project will be able to create solar power with no upfront or maintenance costs, and they will save on their electric bills over time.  Up to half of the host’s electric bill costs can be locked in at a fixed rate over a period of 20 years.  Essentially, the host gives up some roof space in exchange for great savings on their energy bill.

This type of distributed power generation, if it proves successful and popular, provides a great way for APS to meet its renewable portfolio standard for Arizona.  By investing in residential PV, distributed PV, wind, utility-scale PV and concentrated solar, APS improves its ability to provide renewable energy to Arizona’s varying topography, geography, markets and communities.

The project also capitalizes on one of Arizona’s greatest resources – the sun.  Investing in solar PV energy production can have a great impact on the state’s economy in the form of supporting local businesses that install PV systems and manufacture the materials used in these systems.  Continued growth in the solar PV industry provides excellent employment for skilled installers, designers and electrical engineers who make up the workforce of the solar industries.

Just as important as strengthening our state’s economy, investing in renewable energy sources goes a long way in ensuring bright blue skies, clean lakes and rivers, healthy habitats for people and wildlife, and helps push our country towards energy independence and viable post-carbon future.

Arizona’s utilities, as are utilities all across the continent, are tasked with figuring out how to provide clean, renewable forms of energy, while at the same time meeting the inevitable growth in energy consumption expected over the next few decades.  Unfortunately, no one solution can cover all the bases, and it will be crucial to include as many different production sources as possible into the mix.  This includes conservation.  The APS Community Project is a unique venture and deserves credit for its ingenuity and forward thinking.  Whether or not this method proves a valuable source of distributed energy is still to be determined, but this kind of forward thinking is exactly what we need to achieve our energy goals for the short and long term future of Arizona and the United States.

PV System Design