While frequently-turbulent news coming out of Washington, DC tends to dominate headlines, solar professionals know that state level policies are usually more important to the success of their business. Not only that, but solar companies and other advocates can often have the greatest policy impact at the state level - making it doubly important to follow what’s going on and get involved.
According to the latest “50 States of Solar” report by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC), a whopping 149 solar policy actions were taken across 40 states plus Washington, D.C. in the first quarter of 2018 alone, including legislation as well as regulatory proceedings.
Each of these actions could have relevance for affected solar companies as well as homeowners, but let’s just look at a handful of the most consequential.
Bright Skies in Leading States
A few of the biggest solar states took bold steps forward in recent months, with ambitious new policies that could be important models for action in other states. And several up-and-coming solar leaders across the country also doubled down on the sun with new rebates and tax credits.
California’s always been a solar pioneer - check out this list of eight solar ‘firsts’ in the state from one of our awesome California partners, Semper Solaris - and it made history in May with its groundbreaking mandate for rooftop solar on all new residential buildings starting in 2020. The rule is part of a wide-ranging new package of building standards that will also increase energy efficiency and encourage home battery installations.
With a combination of plentiful sunshine, the highest electricity costs in the country, and a dearth of conventional fossil fuel resources, Hawaii has always had plenty of reasons to push for solar. In 2015 it became the first state to set a goal of 100% renewable electricity (by 2045), and its new “performance-based ratemaking” law - the Ratepayer Protection Act - is another first that will require utilities to help customers go solar, install batteries, and reduce their electricity bills.
The Garden State is famous for a lot of things, but solar has become just as Jersey as the Shore after more than a decade of strong growth. And in May, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law New Jersey’s biggest renewable energy policy yet: a mandate to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030, including a target for rooftop solar that is the most aggressive in the country.
North Carolina has shown massive solar growth in recent years to become the #2 solar state in the country, but most of this development has come from large, utility-scale installations. That may change, thanks to a newly-approved home solar rebate for Duke Energy customers that could be worth up to $6,000 per installation - a big-time investment in rooftop solar that comes in response to the Competitive Energy Solutions for North Carolina law passed last year.
We’ve talked about Utah in the past as one of the top up-and-coming “red” states going solar in a big way, and it continued to push forward this year with two important solar bills signed in March. The new legislation will extend state solar tax credits worth up to $1,600 for two years and implement new consumer solar protections, including standardized disclosure forms developed by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Clouds Darken Solar Elsewhere
Despite polls demonstrating that Americans of both parties overwhelmingly support increased solar, regulators in two states - appointed by anti-solar Republican governors in both cases - have been taking shady steps to try and undermine the net metering policies that give solar a clear value proposition for homeowners. And even in ostensibly pro-solar Connecticut, utilities have backed new legislation that similarly endangers rooftop solar economics.
Last year, regulators appointed by openly anti-solar Gov. Paul LePage voted to reduce compensation for solar homeowners under the state’s net metering program. The move was met with strong opposition from solar advocates as well as the legislature, but Gov. LePage vetoed a bipartisan solar reform bill passed last August - and, in April, he vetoed yet another legislative fix. The relatively good news is, the legislature fell just two votes short  of overriding the veto this time around - perhaps it’s only a matter of time (or elections) before Maine joins other pro-solar states in New England.
In April, the Michigan Public Service Commission voted to replace the state’s net metering program with one that will compensate rooftop solar customers based on “avoided cost” - likely to be significantly less than the retail rate of compensation that homeowners currently receive. As noted by PV Magazine, the move is unusual due to the nascent state of Michigan’s solar market. Usually, anti-solar utilities and regulators have targeted net metering in states with ongoing solar booms like Nevada - where a similar anti-net metering move was overturned thanks to massive backlash from solar advocates, leading to a major solar resurgence this year.
Given solar’s near-universal popularity, steps to undermine net metering are often “shadily” disguised as steps to advance renewables. This is the unfortunately the case in Connecticut, where new legislation will increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 40% by 2030 while simultaneously dismantling net metering. Future home solar customers will instead choose between less straightforward compensation options have yet to be defined by state regulators, leaving many questions but also hope that a fair solution will ultimately be found.
How to Get Involved
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the world of state-level solar - and it’s not all sunshine, either. The good news is, whether you’re a solar professional, a solar homeowner, or just a big fan of the sun, your voice can carry a lot of weight on how these policies play out.
Where should you start?
● If you’re in the industry, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is involved in solar battles at every level of government, and the organization has a fantastic number of active members who can help you figure out how to best represent your business interests.
● Vote Solar is a policy-savvy non-profit that includes both industry and advocates as supporters, and they’re a great resource to learn about the state-level activities shaping the home solar landscape in particular.
● The Energy Future Project is busy working to put clean energy issues on the ballot at both the state and local level this year - you can learn about what they’re focusing on and why in our Q&A with co-founder Ryan Gallentine.
The most important thing is that you get involved now. 2018 is a huge election year at all levels of government, and if local solar businesses and all those solar supporters across the political spectrum make their voices heard, the sky is truly the limit for our industry.
One of the best ways to get involved is also to go solar yourself - click here to learn more about how Mosaic financing can make it easy.