Las Vegas, NV - With three solar panels installed for every two Nevadans, Nevada now has more solar capacity per person than any other state, according to a new report. But, at the behest of NV Energy, the state also eliminated its net metering program last December, causing a whopping 93 percent decline in rooftop solar applications the following month.
The Silver State’s solar schizophrenia, detailed in Environment America Research & Policy Center’s latest ranking of state solar capacity, exemplifies a growing trend: the states where solar is booming the most are those where utility interests are attacking it the hardest.
“The more solar grows, the more big utilities try to stop it,” said Bret Fanshaw, Solar Program coordinator at Environment America and a co-author of the report. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, major utilities are working across the country to undermine the policies that have helped states become solar leaders.”
The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have for years held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.
But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under assault from utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model.
Last year utilities convinced officials in Hawaii as well as Nevada to eliminate their net metering programs, while earlier this year California’s program narrowly withstood a high-profile utility assault.
"As we've seen in many states, California's big utilities proposed to cut net metering credit and add major new fees for customers who want to go solar," said Susannah Churchill, West Coast Regional Director for Vote Solar. "After careful consideration of both the facts and input from diverse stakeholders, California regulators voted to preserve solar – standing strong for progress, for innovation, and for the public interest.”
Other states fared less well. In Arizona, one major utility charged a new fee on new solar customers, depressing rooftop solar power growth in its 1 million-person service area; two other utilities in the state are now pressing to institute similar charges and eliminate their retail net metering programs.
Anti-solar salvos like these come as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of the renewable energy resource nationwide. In February solar cleared the milestone of 1 million installations across the country, and is expected to add another million in just two years’ time as prices continue to plummet.
Across the country, poll after poll shows overwhelming support for solar energy, while a Gallup poll from this year shows that as concern about global warming rises, Americans want increasing emphasis on alternative energy sources such as solar and wind rather than fossil fuels.
Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in the 10 leading-edge states, who make up 88 percent of the nation’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. All have renewable energy requirements, for example, and nine have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid.
“For the fourth year in a row, our research shows how pro-clean energy policies, not necessarily availability of sunlight, determines which states lead the way on solar,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author.
But clean energy advocates warned that utilities weren’t letting up on their quest to erode such policies, nor were they confining them to top solar states. For instance, they’ve succeeded so far in blocking substantial clean energy progress in Florida, the Sunshine State, where the potential is vast.
As for Nevada, solar industry leaders and citizen groups are fighting back against the utility-backed changes to rooftop solar rules, and they say public support will ultimately win out.
“Before the solar rate hike, sunny Nevada rightfully led the nation in solar installations and solar jobs per capita -- growing our economy while protecting our environment,” said Chandler Sherman, Deputy Campaign Manager of Bring Back Solar, the group organized to restore net metering to Nevada. “That's why the people of Nevada overwhelmingly support restoring net metering, so Nevadans once again have the freedom to power our communities with affordable, clean energy.”