Complex variables make solar comparisons difficult

CPS Energy’s 400 MW solar power agreement with OCI Solar Power was recently compared — unfavorably — with two large-scale solar energy projects that will supply power to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Differences in the projects, and the environments in which they’re situated, make such comparisons inaccurate at best, and distorting at worst.

Several solar analysts and solar industry groups agreed.

“It’s generally not a good idea to compare large projects,” said Analyst Fatima Toor of Lux Research.

There are far too many variables to make an accurate comparison, he said, including whether the projects are on federal or private land, the cost of power in each state, the regulatory environment there, the amount of incentives a project is receiving, and even how efficient the systems will be.

He also said it’s not common for projects to publicly release their rates, making comparisons that much more difficult.

“It’s competitive,” Feinstein said. “If I’m First Solar, I don’t want a utility in Massachusetts to know what I’m selling power for in New Mexico. That would be leverage they’re giving up.”

“We have found that it is of very limited value to compare project prices from one utility or one region to another, said Julia Hamm, President and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association, an educational non-profit in Washington, D.C.

“Such comparisons are laden with a number of caveats, no matter what generation resource a utility is considering.  With solar, the rapidly falling price of PV modules alone is a major variable, even if all other conditions were identical.”

Tracy Idell Hamilton

Tracy Idell Hamilton was part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

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