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US added 2,900 MW of new solar capacity in Q4'19

The U.S. added 2,919 MW of new utility-scale solar generating capacity in the fourth quarter of 2019, 400 MW more than the combined solar capacity brought online in the three preceding quarters, S&P Global Market Intelligence data shows. Total solar capacity additions for full year 2019 were 5,410 MW, or almost 620 MW higher than in 2018.

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About 1,640 MW of solar capacity was added in December 2019 alone, representing 30.3% of total capacity installations for the year and in keeping with a trend observed since 2010. From 2010 through 2018, an average of 33% of the annual solar photovoltaic capacity was added in December, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Federal investment tax credits for commercial, utility and residential solar installations began phasing down this year. The rate dropped from 30% to 26% for projects starting construction in 2020 and to 22% for those starting construction in 2021. In 2022, the rate falls to 10% for commercial- and utility-scale projects and expires for residential projects. Solar companies and lawmakers have called for an extension of the tax credits.

Cumulative installed utility-scale solar capacity in the U.S. at the end of 2019 stood at 38,702 MW, up 16.4% from the prior year.

Texas completed more capacity additions in the fourth quarter of 2019 than any other state, with 568 MW of solar capacity entering service. The Lone Star State is home to two of the three largest solar projects to enter service during the period: Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.'s 250-MW Phoebe Energy Project in Winkler County, and the first 200-MW phase of the Roadrunner Solar Plant (Queen Solar) in Upton County, owned by Enel SpA subsidiary Enel Green Power North America Inc.

Shell Energy North America (US) LP secured 89.0% of the Phoebe solar facility's output under a 12-year power purchase agreement, while Mondelez International Inc. and The Clorox Co. have agreed to purchase a portion of Roadrunner's capacity beginning in 2020. The Roadrunner facility has a second 200-MW unit scheduled to begin operating in April, bringing the plant's total capacity to 400 MW.

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Georgia had the second-largest completed capacity during the quarter at 470 MW. This includes NextEra Energy Inc.'s 150-MW Quitman Solar Center in Brooks County and the 120-MW Dougherty County Solar Facility, both subjects of completed sale-leaseback transactions with the Brooks County Development Authority and the Albany-Dougherty Payroll Development Authority, respectively. Both power plants have their full capacity contracted to Georgia Power Co. under 30-year agreements.

Four solar projects, with a combined capacity of 381 MW, were announced in the fourth quarter of 2019. Leading in terms of capacity is the 196-MW Big Plain Solar Farm (Madison) in Madison County, Ohio, owned by First Solar Inc. and slated to enter service in 2022.

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Amazon.com Inc. also announced plans to develop the 100-MW Lee County Solar Project in Illinois and the 80-MW Northern Virginia Solar Project in Frederick County, Virginia, to supply energy to its Amazon Web Services Inc. data centers. The company said these projects support its commitment to reach its 100% renewable energy target by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2040.

As of March 9, utility-scale solar capacity expected to go online from 2020 through 2024 totaled 70,523 MW. Roughly 22,300 MW is expected to enter service in 2020, followed by about 26,680 MW set to start operations in 2021. In terms of development status, over 50,600 MW is still in the early development phase, while almost 13,980 MW is in advanced development or under construction.

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Texas also has the largest share of planned solar capacity additions in late-stage development, totaling 3,304 MW. This includes 7x Energy, Inc.'s 509-MW Taygete Solar Project I & II in Pecos County, with one phase in advanced development and another under construction. The solar farm is expected to enter service in 2021, with the full capacity of each phase contracted to two undisclosed corporations.

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Under construction in Andrews County, Texas, and expected to go online in 2020 are Ørsted A/S's 420-MW Permian Energy Center and Longroad Energy Holdings LLC's 300-MW Prospero Solar Energy. The Permian solar facility will sell 59.5% of its output to Exxon Mobil Corp., and Prospero Solar will sell its full capacity to Shell Energy North America, both under 12-year agreements.

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