New Report: Solar Capacity in Washington Grew By 33% in 2013

Progress Fueled by New Programs

Environment Washington

Today, Environment Washington Research & Policy Center released a new report: Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013, showing strong solar growth across the nation including a 33 percent increase in Washington in 2013. The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy to help capture the virtually unlimited and pollution-free energy from the sun.

Progress on solar in Washington, and in other states, has helped fuel a tripling of solar energy nationwide between 2011 and 2013 to more than 12,000 megawatts.  In 2013, solar capacity in Washington grew from 16 MW to 24 MW.  The report also ranked highlighted the 10 states with the most solar per capita – Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina –  which are responsible for 87 percent of the solar power in the nation while possess strong policies that are enabling increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar.”                                     

“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in Washington and across the country,” said Jack Sears on behalf of Environment Washington. “Thanks to the commitment of Washington’s leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping us achieve our environmental goals and carbon emission targets.”   

Solar in the United States increased more than 120-fold in the last 10 years. In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all the new electric generation capacity installed in the United States.  Ten states with the most solar installed per/capita are driving 89 percent of the solar installed in the U.S, while, representing only 26 percent of the population and 20 percent of the electricity consumption. 

And as the solar industry grows, the cost for installed solar decreases making it more accessible for all Washingtonians. In fact, the price of installed solar systems fell 60 percent between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2013.  Jobs in the solar industry are also growing rapidly. In 2013, there were more than 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., including 2000 in Washington. Another major driver for solar energy is that it produces no pollution, including climate-altering carbon emissions.  According the report, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life cycle and 91 percent less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.

Several strong policies adopted by other solar states have helped encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar:”    

  •  9 states have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.
  • 9 states have strong statewide interconnection policies. Good interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
  • All 10 states have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 8 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.
  • 9 states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and 8 allow property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

Federal programs, including critical tax incentives and programs like the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Program, designed to drive down the cost of solar, also play an essential role in solar progress.  Additionally, EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, could be an important driver for investing in pollution-free energy, like solar. 

“The solar progress we’ve seen to date is the result of a partnership between local, state and federal officials,” said Rob Sargent, Environment America’s Energy Program Director. “States looking to expand solar can look to the example of the leading solar who’ve have put strong programs in place and have coordinated with federal officials in order to succeed.”

Solar progress in Washington can be attributed to a number of programs, including net metering and a renewable energy standard.  Last month the Inslee Administration announced programs designed to reduce the cost of solar by standardizing and simplifying the permitting process.

“Washington’s officials deserve tremendous credit for recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of solar and taking action to make it a reality,” said Sears. “As more people see the benefits of solar energy, we’re confident clean, limitless energy from the sun will be a growing part of Washington’s plan to reduce pollution from power plants.”

Contact: Jack Sears, (301) 910-6551, [email protected]