Report: As solar explodes nationwide, Washington falls, lags behind most other states

Media Contacts

State leadership would lead to more clean energy, more local jobs

Environment Washington

Seattle, WA – With one solar panel in the state for every 28 people, Washington is falling behind a majority of states in an annual ranking of solar power capacity, despite having the technical potential to produce 21 times as much electricity from solar power as the state consumes each year. In this year’s ranking, Washington dropped to 27th in total solar capacity and 30th in total solar capacity per capita, after ranking 25th in both categories last year.

Environment Washington Research & Policy Center’s new study, Lighting the Way 4: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2015, shows the states who ranked the highest for solar per capita were those with policies that allow increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar,” not necessarily the ones with the most sunshine.

“The question is: will Washington capitalize on the growing clean energy economy with more clean energy and more local jobs, or will we fall further behind,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Director. “We’ve got plenty of sunshine but we need leadership at all levels with a commitment to clean energy policies.”

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.

However, the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by 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. 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.

Yet attacks like these haven’t yet stemmed the tide of solar power. In February it 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. Even here in lagging Washington, we saw continued solar power growth during 2015.

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.

“We encourage the political leaders in Washington State to identify and promote thoughtful legislation and policies that further promote the widespread deployment of solar PV and other clean energy technologies. While Washington’s energy mix is relatively clean, the goal of completely decarbonizing our energy grid is achievable and it will create new jobs and benefit our local economy.”

While Washington saw continued solar power growth during 2015, it still lacks one of the most important policies to promote the pollution-free energy source – a solar care-out which creates a specific minimum requirement for solar energy — which led to a drop in its rankings. State leaders also failed to extend the renewable energy production incentive with legislation (HB 2346) in the 2016 session; the production incentive has contributed greatly to the growth of clean energy in Washington.

“State leadership on solar policies will translate directly into great local jobs and local economic development in Clark County, where we are expanding our new headquarters, and across the state,” said Rick Campfield, CEO of SunModo. “Clean energy is prudent and beneficial for Washington’s environment, energy future, and our economy and we’re eager to work with our local and state leaders to make it happen.”

In Washington, small businesses, local elected officials, and average Americans are demonstrating their support for this increasingly cost-competitive energy source, a crucial part of the solution to global warming. Already in the past year, more than 150 businesses and more than 20 elected leaders have signed on to support Washington getting 10 percent of its energy from the sun by 2025.

Environment Washington said it was time for state leaders to allow the state to realize its vast solar potential by supporting and advancing policies that enable this clean source of energy to grow.

“Solar power can play a major role in the biggest step our country has ever taken to address climate change while also creating local jobs,” said Speight. “That’s why our state legislators should ensure we become leaders, not laggards, when it comes to clean energy.”


Environment Washington Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.