WASHINGTON, DC – Solar electric power tripled in the United States between 2012 and 2014 and ten states are responsible for 86% of today’s solar electricity capacity, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center.
Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014, says that while the United States has enough sunshine to meet its annual electricity needs many times over, it’s not the nation’s solar potential that has made the difference. Instead, a set of states have led the way using policies that allow increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar.”
“With a healthy mix of sunshine and good clean energy policies on the books, states are lighting the way when it comes to solar,” said Bret Fanshaw, Solar Program Coordinator with Environment America.
Of the top 10 states in the report for solar capacity per capita – Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Colorado – all have renewable energy requirements, nine have laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid and nine allow customers to earn credit for excess electricity sent back to the grid through net metering.
"Our analysis shows that policy choices are a key driver of solar energy growth," said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “State and local government policy leadership is closely aligned with success in growing solar energy.”
Hawaii earned the number one ranking for solar energy per capita in the report.
"We are pleased to see the hard work and investment in securing Hawaii’s clean energy future is paying off,” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. “We are looking forward to continuing our leadership role in clean energy through ambitious policies such as our commitment to achieving 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2045.”
Nevada ranked third in the report. Last week, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission opted to maintain the state’s net metering policy through the end of 2015. Nevada ranked first among all states for solar capacity added per capita in 2014.
“I’m pleased to see Nevada rank so highly in this new report,” said U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. “In 2014, Nevada installed more solar capacity per person than any other state in the country. Our state’s extraordinary position as a clean energy leader didn’t happen by accident. I’ve worked hard in Washington and Nevada to promote investments and public-private partnerships to make clean energy mainstream. Roughly $6 billion has been invested in clean energy in Nevada alone, creating more than 20,000 clean energy jobs, including nearly 6,000 solar jobs. There is still plenty of room to grow. I look forward to fighting for policies that increase consumers’ access to solar and allow Nevada and the entire country to maximize the use of our abundant clean energy resources.”
Delaware ranked eleventh for solar per capita in this year’s report. The state has encouraged clean energy use with a variety of policies, including net metering and a renewable portfolio standard of 25 percent by 2025, which includes a solar energy carve out.
“Delaware is aggressively working toward a clean energy future and demonstrating that we can have both a strong economy and a healthy environment," said Delaware Governor Jack Markell.
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 174,000 people in the United States.
“Environment America’s new report correctly points out that smart public policies and the development of clean, affordable solar energy go hand in hand,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Over the last five years, the solar industry has become one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. - currently employing an impressive 174,000 American workers and pumping nearly $18 billion a year into the nation’s economy. But for this growth to continue, stable and effective state and federal public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Net Energy Metering (NEM), need to be extended – and in some cases, even expanded. The resulting benefits this will have to the nation’s economy and environment are indisputable.”
The continued success of solar power has been threatened by recent attacks on net metering and other key solar policies by fossil fuel interests and electric utilities in some states, including in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin, among others.
Last week, utility commissions in Nevada and Colorado sided with renewable energy advocates and agreed to uphold net metering laws in each state.
Despite attacks on solar policies like net metering, many states and the federal government are seeking to reaffirm and expand their commitments to solar energy by increasing solar energy goals and implementing new policies.
California lawmakers are currently considering a bill to obtain 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and Governor Cuomo in New York laid out the same goal this year. In Minnesota, Maryland and New York, community solar policies have been passed to allow more people to access solar energy.
The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state limits on carbon pollution from coal and gas power plants and was finalized last month, provides additional incentives for states to accelerate its development of solar energy. According to Environment America research, solar power could easily meet about half the pollution reduction targets required by the plan.
“Solar power can play a major role in the biggest step our country has ever taken to address climate change,” said Fanshaw. “But we can’t stop there. To slow global warming and ensure a healthier planet for future generations, it’s up to states and the federal government to chart the course to 100 percent clean energy.”
Environment America Research & Policy Center is a national federation of state based advocacy organizations bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentAmericaCenter.org