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Solar capacity to surge in Southeast US over next decade: Fitch Solutions

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Solar capacity to surge in Southeast US over next decade: Fitch Solutions

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Little power price impact foreseen

Local government support questioned

Houston — The Southeast US is likely to have strong solar capacity growth over the next decade, despite the winding down of federal subsidies, a new Fitch Solutions report issued Friday showed, but the wholesale power price impact may be minimal, according to one analyst.

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"We expect corporate renewable energy procurements, renewable energy initiatives by cities, states, and utilities, the adoption of community solar programs, and the decreasing cost of solar to be the key drivers of growth in the region," states the report entitled, "Southeast US Set for Significant Solar Growth Despite ITC Phase-out."

The federal investment tax credit allows the deduction of 26% of the cost of installing a solar energy system from federal taxes in 2020, which is down from 30% in 2019 and earlier years. The ITC is scheduled to fall to 22% in 2021 and 10% in 2022, where it will remain indefinitely.

Regarding how this phenomenon might impact wholesale power prices in the region, Travis Whalen, a power market analyst at S&P Global Platts Analytics, said, "Ultimately, there's not really much chance that adding a zero marginal cost resource can increase wholesale power prices, though we're largely talking about a notional market here."

"Retail rates are negotiated with state regulators and power purchase agreements are entirely separate, so those impacts could really depend on who ends up developing the bulk of these solar projects," Whalen said Monday.

Fitch Solutions sees support for continued growth in the plans of some of the Southeast's largest utilities to boost their solar capacity, as seen in their integrated resource plans filed with state regulators.

Utilities such as Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Georgia Power, Entergy, NextEra Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority collectively plan to add more than 13.5 GW of solar over the next 10 years, Fitch said.

FP&L's Ten Year Power Plant Site Plan, filed at the Florida Public Service Commission in April 2019, includes plans to add more than 5.4 GW of solar capacity from 2019 through 2028, and to grow its solar output from about 1.9 GWh in 2018, 1.5% of the total, to about 18.6 GWh in 2028, about 14.5% of the total.

"The company is also currently developing one of the world's largest solar-powered batteries, the 409-MW Manatee Energy Storage Center, which is expected to begin operations in late 2021 and will help replace natural gas-fired generation," Fitch said.

Looking at forward markets in the area, Florida on-peak power contracts through 2028, the Platts M2MS Forward curve for Florida on-peak power has a slight contango inclination, with most of the increases happening after 2025.

FACTORS FOR SOLAR GROWTH

One factor justifying such investment is action by large corporations such as Facebook, Google and Walmart to work toward sustainability goals by signing renewable power purchase agreements in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, Fitch said.

Another factor is action at the local and state level to support renewable portfolio standards. Cities that have pledged 100% renewable energy include Atlanta, Washington and Orlando, Florida, Fitch said.

"I think we can safely agree that solar will continue to grow even without the ITC, though I'm confused why they suggest that state policy could be a component in this growth," Platts Analytics' Whalen said. "Given that North Carolina has looked to make solar less appealing and I haven't heard any notable moves elsewhere in the region, it's going to hinge much more on those city and county policies."

Asked what could happen to significantly alter the solar power growth outlook, Whalen said, "The adoption of any state renewable standards would probably quickly increase adoption of solar given the strong resources in the region, as would any form of carbon pricing, though neither seems terribly likely."

On the other hand, Whalen said, "It's hard to envision a scenario where solar develops even more slowly than it already has."