Report: California Wins as Top Solar State in the Country

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Central Valley ripe for strong solar future if effective policies continue

Environment California Research & Policy Center

Fresno, CA – In 2014, California not only led the nation in total installed solar electric capacity, with solar power generating more than 5 percent of the state’s total electricity consumption, but the Golden State also added more installed solar capacity last year than all other states combined, according to a new report released today by Environment California Research & Policy Center. The state’s solar achievements—and the potential for the Central Valley to lead the way on future solar growth—were highlighted at a press event at SolarCity’s Fresno warehouse today with local elected officials, school district officials, environmental justice organizations and solar advocates.

Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014 says that while California has enough sunshine to meet its annual electricity needs many times over, it’s not its solar potential that has made the difference. Instead, California has outpaced all other states because of policies that allow increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar.”

With plenty of sunshine and plenty of good clean energy policies at work, California is lighting the way when it comes to solar,” said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California. “The Central Valley is the right place at the right time to take advantage of solar power, creating local jobs, cleaner air and a healthier climate. Just as this area is renowned for its ability to grow abundant crops, it is ripe for solar to grow in a big way.”

“The benefits of solar power are many, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to providing savings to businesses and homeowners to providing jobs to thousands in the metropolitan area,” said Clovis Mayor Nathan Magsig.

“Low-income Latino farmworker families are the frontline victims to dirty power,” said Rey Leon, executive director of Valley LEAP: San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement & Policy Project. “The west side of the Valley is the poorest sector of our region with bad air quality and haunted with bad health due to environmental factors.  It also has hundreds of thousands of acres no longer producing and perfect for thousands of solar megawatts to power the whole region.  We need to prepare the most vulnerable economically in these same areas to be employed in this green economy to bring the solution to the many challenges we face. This will provide not just environmental and climate justice, but financial security for thousands of families and small businesses.”

Compared to last year, California advanced in the group’s annual ranking of per-capita solar capacity, coming in second place for solar capacity installed during 2014, close behind Nevada, and 4th for cumulative per-capita solar capacity.

On all counts, solar power is bringing greater environmental and economic benefits to Californians, including school districts. One local example is the Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District, which is benefitting from a 910-kilowatt solar energy system at three District sites, with an anticipated savings of more than $9 million over twenty-five years.

“Solar energy projects for public schools are essentially revenue enhancements for school districts which directly benefit the students and taxpayers,” said Russell Freitas, superintendent of Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District. “In the past, school districts have experienced the most difficult financial times and because of the savings our solar project has created, we are able to bring music instruction back to the District.”

Of the top 10 states for cumulative installed solar capacity – California, Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Colorado, New York and Texas  – all have renewable energy requirements, and eight, including California, have strong net metering policies to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid and sell back their excess power.

Solar energy has exploded in recent years across the country, its capacity tripling in the last three years. The industry is adding jobs much faster than the overall economy, employing approximately 54,000 people in California last year.

“The industry sees it every day—everybody in the Central Valley loves solar, whether it be your children’s school or on your own rooftop,” said SolarCity Vice President David Brown. “Having choice and control over energy costs is appealing to everyone. And the jobs are local, because a Central Valley solar installation can only be done in the Central Valley.”

One of the policies that have made California a solar leader, however, is under attack at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) by the utilities and their allies who view net metering, and the ability for their customers to generate their own power, as a threat to their business. Regulators at the CPUC are now deciding if and how to expand or contract the state’s net energy metering program.  

“Valley Schools and other public agencies are already getting 20-30% savings on their electricity bills from their solar projects; savings that go directly to improving schools and reducing cost of services for taxpayers and ratepayers of public agencies like water agencies,” said Rick Brown, president of TerraVerde Renewable Partners. “Others are rushing to get projects completed before negative policies being promoted by PG&E and SoCal Edison effectively eliminate the benefits of solar. We hope that this report convinces politicians in Sacramento and the Governor’s appointees on the CPUC to resist pressure from the utilities and continue to support policies that allow schools solar to keep growing.”

“It’s not an accident that solar has been growing steadily in our state,” said Kinman. “And weakening the policies that helped us increase clean energy, expand job opportunities, and reduce pollution would be a huge mistake for the future of the Central Valley and California as a whole.”