During this holiday season as news about solar power and renewable energy slow down like molasses in January, there was some surprising news for renewables including changes to the tax bill that made it ultimately more favorable for wind and solar. Meanwhile, in more gifts Austin Energy increased access to solar for low-income families and researchers in California identified thousands of square kilometers ideal for solar plants.
Originally versions of the tax bill, which President Trump quietly signed into law before Christmas, worried the renewable energy industries because both versions had different provisions in them that would negatively impact the cost of wind or solar. The final version, however, eliminated the most damaging provisions including the BEAT (Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax) in the Senate version of the bill, which would have subjected renewable energy installations to a new, 100 percent tax, while leaving tax breaks and incentives for fossil fuels intact.
In Austin, local utility Austin Energy increased access to solar power to low-income residents and separately signed what might be the lowest-cost solar energy contract to date. It announced that 200 of its low-income Customer Assistance Program (CAP) participants could sign up for power from its second community solar project at a rate below their current rates. The utility also announced that it signed a power-purchase agreement for a 150 megawatt solar farm with costs as low as $21 per megawatt hour. That cost is expected to be between $10 and $12 million a year for 15 years and is likely the lowest-cost solar project in the US.
Over in California researchers at the University of California, Riverside have issued a new study showing that more than 8,400 square kilometers of non-farm land in California’s Central Valley could be ideal for solar power development. The report said it identified the lands as an alternative to taking important, productive farm land out of production and that the lands could provide more solar energy than what the state needed in 2015.
Also last week Solar Frontier announced that it has reached a new record efficiency for its CIS (copper, indium selenium) photovoltaic technology. The company’s newest CIS cells are able to convert 22.9 percent of the sun’s light into electricity. It’s still behind other technologies, but thin-film solar can do things that silicon PV can’t do, like create a fully flexible solar device.Tweet