Despite slight dip, Phoenix still ranks high for solar power in cities

A new report says Phoenix had the fourth-largest solar power capacity among U.S. cities at the end of 2019, a fact one advocate said “makes all the sense in the world,” given the city’s climate. (Photo by Elena Elisseeva, Greens MPs/Creative Commons)

PHOENIX – Phoenix dipped slightly in a national ranking of solar power capacity, even as the total amount of power generated and the power per person increased from last year, according to a national report released Wednesday.

The “Shining Cities” report by Environment America said Phoenix’s 272.4 megawatts of solar capacity was fourth-highest in the nation last year, down one place from the year before, while the 164 watts per capita was good for eighth place, a drop of two spots.

Still, the city ranked again as a “solar star” for its overall capacity, which Mayor Kate Gallego called a testament to the city’s dedication to solar power.

“We have a lot of people, so the fact that we can compete in a per capita ranking, is a testament to how much our voters believe in renewable energy,” Gallego said during the webinar in which the report was released.

The annual report began in 2013, and the latest edition said that almost 90% of the 57 cities that have been included every year have doubled total solar energy installed since that first report – and half of those cities quadrupled capacity. The report said total U.S. solar capacity has reached 77.7 gigawatts, enough to power more than 10% of U.S. homes.

The report also said the number of solar stars – cities, like Phoenix, with 50 watts of solar power or more per person – grew from 23 in 2018 to 26 last year.

In Phoenix, solar capacity rose from 236 megawatts in 2018 to 272 megawatts in 2019. The capacity per person rose from 145 watts to 164 watts in the same period.

The city’s total photovoltaic solar generating capacity trailed only Los Angeles – which has been in first place for the last three years – San Diego and Honolulu, which bumped Phoenix from third place. But Phoenix still got high marks from an author of the report.

“One thing Phoenix is taking advantage of is installing solar on municipal property, they are doing an excellent, excellent job on that,” said Ben Sonnega, co-author of the report and Go Solar campaign associate at Environment America. “That’s one of the best ways mayors and elected officials can develop solar in their cities.”

Court Rich, board vice president for the Arizona Solar Energy Industry Association and head of the renewable energy department for Rose Law Group, said solar energy in Arizona “makes all the sense in the world.”

“Frankly, we should be number one,” Rich said. “Because we are in the middle of the place with the most sunlight in the entire country.”

Sonnega said policy and leadership is just as important for increasing the amount of solar power, because “it’s not necessarily where the sun shines the most, but where the conditions are set.”

Even with the economic challenges presented by COVID-19, both Sonnega and Rich said there are opportunities for solar growth to continue.

“Coming out of this pandemic, we should be continuing to think about the future that we want and not the future that we had,” Sonnega said.

Rich said that solar will be hit, just like every other business, but that it will bounce back – in part because it can help people recover from the economic impacts caused by COVID-19.

“People love solar because it helps them save money on their electric bills, is clean and good for the environment, and people need to save money, now more than ever,” Rich said. “So, it seems like solar is the perfect thing for our community right now.”

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Ellie Borst is an Arizona native who expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Borst is the managing editor for The State Press and will intern at The Arizona Republic in the fall.