June 8 (UPI) -- Solar power in the United States is gaining momentum that's independent of partisan issues in Washington, the head of an industry trade group said.
A report published Thursday by the Solar Energy Industries Association found first-quarter 2017 marked the sixth quarter in a row with more than 2 gigawatts of solar power installed. The price point, meanwhile, is becoming competitive, with utility-scale installations falling below $1 per watt for the first time.
Abigail Ross Hopper, the trade group's CEO and former director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told UPI the sector has established a sustainable trajectory that's independent of the levers of power in Washington.
"This quarter shows us again that solar has momentum and we expect that momentum to continue no matter which political party has control in Washington," she said. "Solar has always had strong bipartisan support and broad appeal in communities across America and that's because our members are boosting local economies, creating jobs and providing clean, affordable energy."
Hopper's group joined the American Wind Energy Association and the Advanced Energy Economy in defending the renewable energy sector against concerns from Energy Secretary Rick Perry about reliability. With renewable resources like solar and wind deemed variable because of the nature of their power origins, the secretary said the issue was a critical one given regulatory burdens enacted by previous administrations that could impact the development of legacy resources like coal-fired power generation.
On that front, Germany utility company E.ON, one of the largest in the world, announced last week the opening of its 10 megawatt Iron Horse lithium battery system for a solar park in Arizona, its first such project in North America. By storing energy generated through solar power, the company said it's established a reliable source of energy for more than 400,000 customers.
The SEIA said solar power was the second-largest source of new electric capacity during the first quarter, second only to natural gas. With a strong foundation in place, the organization said total installed solar power capacity is expected to roughly triple over the next five years.