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Solar Energy's Now a Competitor in Sunny States Like NM

Solar panel.PHOTO Credit: Public domain.

Solar panel.PHOTO Credit: Public domain.


January 21, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Solar power has become cheap enough to compete in some sunny parts of the U.S, even without help from the government. A sharp, long-term fall in the price of solar cells has led The Economist magazine and others to conclude that, in sunny areas with high electricity prices, solar power is now cheap enough to compete without subsidies.

Rory McIlmoil, energy program manager for the environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies, says that applies to some sunny regions, but not the East Coast.

"In those areas, solar is competing with other sources of energy that have higher electricity prices, which makes it a lot more likely that solar can compete."

McIlmoil says solar power plants are nearing a point at which they would be competitive with building a similar-sized coal-fired plant. In New Mexico and West Texas, El Paso Electric (EPE) and Element Power signed an agreement late last year to provide electricity from the Macho Springs Solar Project near Deming to El Paso Electric customers at a competitive rate.

Although the solar industry still depends on significant federal subsidies, McIlmoil points out that, overall, the much larger fossil fuel industries receive more tax breaks. And new technology in power storage and flexible use of the grid are easing some of the issues with solar.

Thanks to cheap solar cells, McIlmoil says 2010 saw what was then a record level of solar power installed.

"Just one year later, twice that was installed. Roughly 80 percent of the solar power that currently exists in the United States was installed in just over the last three years."

The magazine also projects that, at current growth rates, wind power will surpass nuclear in 10 years. More information from The Economist is available at goo.gl/SIb0d.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM