Tucson Electric Power customers can choose to support local solar energy with TEP’s Bright Tucson Community Solar program.

Under the program, launched in February 2011, customers purchase 150-kilowatt-hour blocks of solar energy generated at sites throughout TEP’s service territory.

For up to 20 years, these customers receive a fixed energy rate for the portion of their bills they dedicate to solar energy, and they benefit from discounts on the renewable energy and purchased power and fuel surcharges.

The renewable energy surcharge supports existing renewable energy programs, while the purchased power and fuel surcharge goes toward energy costs that exceed the current base fuel rates.

“This program allows customers who don’t install their own rooftop solar systems to support solar energy,” said Carmine Tilghman, Senior Director of Wholesale, Fuels & Renewable Resources. “For a small premium, and without any large upfront costs or long-term contracts, these customers can add solar to their energy portfolios.”

To date, more than 1,100 residential and business customers have joined the program, accounting for almost 5 megawatts of solar capacity. Three large customers — the City of Tucson, Pima County and the La Posada continuing-care community near Sahuarita — have signed up for an additional 18 megawatts of solar capacity.

The Bright Tucson Community Solar program raises about $400,000 each year, all of which goes toward the development of renewable energy resources.

Customers can participate for as little as an additional $3 per month. Based on average residential usage, a customer could cover all electricity requirements with solar from Bright Tucson for an extra $18 per month. However, the associated surcharge discounts offset a significant portion of that amount, and locking in today’s rate for 20 years would likely provide additional savings over the years.

Residential customers on the standard R-01 plan, as well as Small General Service (GS-10) and Large General Service (LGS-13) commercial customers are eligible to participate in Bright Tucson Community Solar.

“Participating customers feel good about the environmental benefits of local solar energy and, over time, they get a tangible benefit on their energy bill,” Tilghman said. “The money spent here stays here and goes toward renewable energy development.”

Since TEP began the program, utilities and solar advocates across the country have sought TEP’s advice on creating similar programs. “We’re the first to develop a program like this, and because it’s an opportunity for utilities to offer consumer choice on renewable energy, we’re more than happy to help others out,” he said.

The program has seen a successful first three years, but it has room for expansion and improvement.

“I would expect this program to evolve over the years, but we will always maintain some form of a community solar program. We fully intend to offer as many options as possible for our customers to support renewable energy,” Tilghman said.

TEP’s sister company, UniSource Energy Services, offers an identical program to its electric-service customers throughout Arizona.

To sign up, visit www.tep.com/renewable/home/bright or call TEP’s Customer Care line at 520-623-7711 to connect with a specially trained Customer Service Representative.