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Fitch Solutions: Southeast US set for solar boom despite sunsetting tax credit

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The Southeast U.S. could see about 110 GW of solar capacity additions from 2020 through 2029, even as federal tax subsidies for solar projects phase out, according to Fitch Solutions Macro Research.

And the potential exists for even more solar in the long run, Fitch Solutions analysts wrote in a Jan. 10 report. Capacity additions are clustered in a few states, including North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, but other states with smaller solar markets could see growth as project costs continue to decline.

Utilities' long-term resource plans are among the key factors driving the Southeast's boost in solar. Duke Energy Corp., NextEra Energy Inc. and its flagship utility Florida Power & Light Co., Entergy Corp., Tennessee Valley Authority, and Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power Co. plan to add a collective 13.5 GW of new solar capacity over the next 10 years.

"Utilities continue to advance their renewable energy initiatives as wind and solar power plants are becoming increasingly economical," Fitch Solutions said. "In addition, utilities are facing increased demand from customers to act on climate change."

The outlook comes nearly a month after Congress passed a tax package that did not include an extension of the solar investment tax credit, disappointing clean energy advocates. The sunsetting federal subsidies, as well as U.S. trade disputes, created stumbling blocks for the broader U.S. solar industry in 2019.

State and local renewable portfolio standards and community solar initiatives are expected to play significant roles in growing solar capacity in southeastern states. While Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are the only states in the region with renewable energy targets, Fitch Solutions noted that 23 cities and 4 counties pledged to reach 100% renewable energy, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla. Local communities and utilities are increasingly working together to implement solar projects to meet customer demand, such as FPL's "SolarTogether" community program that calls for installing 1,490 MW of new solar capacity.

Commercial and industrial customers' clean energy appetite is also feeding into the Southeast solar frenzy, particularly for states that do not have as many projects built. For example, Alabama's current solar capacity will more than double once projects with electricity contracted to nonutility customers such as Facebook Inc. come online.

"We expect additional renewable energy procurements to drive further significant growth in the Southeast U.S. solar industry, as the region will remain a top solar destination due to its highly suitable climate, land availability and proximity to large corporations and power-hungry data centers," Fitch Solutions wrote.