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Volkswagen and city officials flipped on the switch to the new solar park in January.

Top solar states

1. California

2. Arizona

3. New Jersey

4. Nevada

5. North Carolina

Tennessee ranked 14th and Georgia ranked 22nd

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association data, based upon installed PV capacity in 2012

By the numbers

• The U.S. has over 7,700 MW of installed solar electric capacity, enough to power more than 1.2 million American households.

• Over 82,000 homes installed solar across the country in 2012.

• The commercial market installed over 1,040 MW in 2012, up 26 percent over 2011 totals.

Local governments and businesses in Tennessee increasingly are letting the sunshine in, at least as a way to power their own buildings.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean told a solar energy conference Thursday that he and other city leaders are turning more to solar power as a cleaner and greener source of energy for offices, fire halls and even sewage treatment plants.

"Solar energy has been gaining incredible momentum and I think people want to see more," Dean told participants at the TN Solar Summit in Chattanooga. "There is a lot of excitement when you put solar panels on a building and people can see that we are working to reduce our carbon footprint."

Metro Nashville government has installed solar panels on its municipal offices, fire halls and public housing, while the cities of Knoxville and Memphis has put solar arrays on convention facilities and zoo buildings. Chattanooga, for its size, has done even more with the installation of two of Tennessee's biggest solar panel farms at the Volkswagen plant and at the Chattanooga Airport Authority.

Statewide, solar installations were up 70 percent in Tennessee during 2012 over the previous year. GTM, an energy consulting company, projects solar installations will grow another 30 percent this year as costs fall and interest rates remain attractive.

Last month for the first time ever, solar energy accounted for all of the net new utility electricity generation capacity added to the U.S. electric grid, according to data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. More than 44 megawatts of solar electric capacity was brought online. All other energy sources combined added no new generation.

"This speaks to the extraordinary strides we have made in the past several years to bring down costs and ramp up deployment," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "As FERC's report suggests, and many analysts predict, solar will grow to be our nation's largest new source of energy over the next four years."

But to sustain such growth, Dean urged government to maintain incentives for more solar installations. Federal tax credits and state and local tax exemptions -- for both sales and property levies -- have helped subsidize the industry and cut the startup costs for adding solar units. The Tennessee Valley Authority also buys back solar and other renewable energy at a premium price compared with other power sources.

Under former Gov. Phil Bredesen, Tennessee also used part of its federal stimulus funds for a solar initiative that included both a West Tennessee solar farm and a research facility in East Tennessee. But some lawmakers are pushing to limit the property and sales tax breaks given to solar installations.

"We need to focus more on incentivizing the use of solar and not creating disincentives through taxes and other means,' Dean said "The market, under the right conditions, has responded favorably to solar power and should continue to trend upwards in the face of lower equipment and installation costs. That will create a better place for us all to live."

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340