Report: Sunny States' Policies Block Rooftop Solar

 

Download the full report: Throwing Shade: 10 Sunny States Blocking Distributed Solar Development.

Executive Summary

In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, it’s clear that a rapid shift to a 100 percent renewable energy system is needed by mid-century – a move supported by leading climate scientists, industry experts, religious groups, justice organizations and environmentalists alike. Distributed solar energy plays a unique and critical role in creating a renewable energy future that stems climate change, promotes social justice and protects biodiversity, yet the expansion of this market in the United States relies in large part on state policies that determine whether solar panels are accessible and affordable. The 10 states with the best policy landscapes for supporting solar market growth, highlighted in a recent report by Environment America, have been driving the solar energy boom. In fact the installed solar capacity in these states accounts for 86 percent of the total for the United States. Unfortunately the vast majority of states are lacking the fundamental policies that would encourage solar market development; even worse, many are actively preventing it through policy barriers and restrictions. More than half of all states with key distributed solar policies in place saw efforts to weaken or eliminate those policies in 2015.

For this report, we analyze and highlight 10 states that are blocking distributed solar potential through overtly lacking and destructive distributed solar policy. These 10 states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — account for more than 35 percent of the total rooftop solar photovoltaic technical potential in the contiguous United States, but only 6 percent of total installed distributed solar capacity, according to a March 2016 report released by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Agency. All of these states have significant barriers in place to distributed solar development and have earned an overall policy grade of “F” in our analysis. We based these grades on a thorough review of the presence, or absence, and strength of key distributed solar policies, and, combined with the overall rooftop solar photovoltaic technical potential rankings by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), identified the states that would benefit most from improvements to their distributed solar policy landscapes.

Throwing Shade

Of the 10 states highlighted in this report:

  • Seven are lacking mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS), policies that are key to creating a safe market for investing in rooftop solar. The three states with mandatory RPSs in place — Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin — have already met their low targets and have not taken steps to update their policies, so these RPSs are doing nothing to bolster the solar industry at this point. In fact Texas met its incredibly unambitious goal of 10,000 MW 15 years ahead of schedule and is unlikely to update this goal anytime soon.
  • Three lack mandatory statewide net-metering policies, possibly the most important policy model in place in the United States that allows for solar customers to connect with the grid. Only three other states in the country can say the same.
  • Only three allow for third-party ownership of solar panels — a financing model that has fostered a distributed solar boom across the United States by allowing for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford solar panels outright to be able to install them on their property.
  • None have community solar programs in place, which are a key policy to encourage access to distributed solar resources and ensure community resiliency.
  • Nine lack strong interconnection laws, making the process of installing solar panels harder for homeowners, business owners and third-party companies alike.
  • Five don’t have any solar-access laws that protect home and business owners from local restrictions on solar panel installations due to issues such as neighborhood aesthetics.

All 10 of these states are bad actors in the distributed solar policy game, but two in particular stand out as the worst: Florida and Texas. These two states fall in the top 3 for rooftop solar photovoltaic technical potential, just after California. Both Florida and Texas could feasibly have some of the best markets in the country for distributed solar growth; they make up more than 16 percent of the total technical potential for the contiguous United States. Because of bad policy landscapes, however, these states currently only account for 2.7 percent of the total installed distributed PV capacity in the United States.

Conclusion: State policy landscapes that prevent the expansion of the distributed solar market threaten the swift transition from fossil fuels to a fully renewable energy system that’s needed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and protect the health of communities and the planet. All 50 states should make improvements to their renewable energy policies in one way or another, but the 10 states identified as the top offenders when it comes to blocking distributed solar can have a significant impact on distributed solar progress — and therefore on environmental health, energy security and the climate crisis — by following the recommendations outlined in this report.

 

Download the full report: Throwing Shade: 10 Sunny States Blocking Distributed Solar Development.

 

Photo credits: Banner courtesy grand_canyon_nps/Flickr.