Creating a Sustainable Solar Market State-by-State

Study after study has proven that the U.S. has enormous solar potential. Our southwest has been referred to as the Saudi Arabia of solar energy. And yet, what is stopping us from reaching that potential? Well, it’s certainly not supply.

BP just announced plans to double their manufacturing capacity at their Frederick, Maryland, plant—already the largest, fully integrated solar manufacturing plant in North America. Evergreen Solar just broke ground for a 75 MW factory that will double the company’s employment by the end of 2008.

And it’s definitely not demand that is stopping us from realizing our full solar potential. Poll after poll indicates that solar energy is the energy of choice. The ratepayers, taxpayers, consumers have spoken. It’s time for the policy makers to listen and take action.

It’s time for other Governors to follow Schwarzenegger (CA), Corzine (NJ), O’Malley (MD), and Ritter (CO) It’s time for state legislators and regulators to lead us toward a sustainable solar future. It’s also time for utilities to create the win-win scenarios for their customers as well as for their shareholders.

It would be wonderful if we had leadership from Washington, but state governments have filled the (what I hope is a temporary) vacuum. Sad that we must move piecemeal across the country designing solar policy to open up markets. But that is precisely the role of the newly formed Solar Alliance: to assist state policy makers create the most equitable, transparent, cost-effective, sustainable foundation upon which this renewable resource can thrive.

We, at the Solar Alliance, have made it clear what the basic ingredients are for such a market. We call it the “Four Pillars”. Those pillars include Net Metering, Interconnection, Incentives and Utility Rates. One or two of these policies will not make a solar market. All four pillars are required.

And not just any Net Metering bill will work. If there is no rollover provision or significant deployment, if on-site solar power is not paid the same as grid-tied power, or if customer generators are required to pay a fee for self generating……then that net metering bill fails the test of our “Guiding Principles.”

U.S. States in the Lead
Members of the Solar Alliance are thrilled to play a part in California’s solar program. Their Solar Initiative is two years ahead of plan in the commercial market and on track in the residential market. Despite a weak housing market, the new ‘solar homes program’ has had strong early success because a solar home offers a unique differentiation….. a promise of zero energy costs in the future!

California conforms to the ‘Four Pillars’ and the Guiding Principals by providing market access to all customer classes and by establishing rebates that decline as the market succeeds – rather than on an arbitrary calendar basis. California is also diligently working to streamline the process and paperwork – thereby making it possible for smaller solar businesses to keep their costs down.

New Jersey is running an incredible second place to California, because of their political and utility leadership. The state legislature has mandated that 2% of New Jersey’s electricity come from local solar generation by 2020, approximately 1500 MW. They already have 40 MW of installed and operating solar. The solar industry has risen to the challenge of state officials by meeting the solar RPS goals in each of the three years that the program has been in existence and it is on track to continue this success into the future.

In New Jersey, financing comes from the customers, the utilities and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) SRECs trade in a market based system that encourages innovation and price reduction by the solar industry with incentives based on energy produced. New Jersey has the most active trading platform for solar energy credits in the world!

Other States like Pennsylvania are working diligently to improve their policies. Colorado has some of the best incentives in the country. Maryland has passed one of the most comprehensive legislative packages—now they begin the implementation process. North Carolina and Ohio are beginning. Florida, thanks to Governor Crist’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, he’s focused on solar as a major remedy to that challenge.

Arizona and Texas? Enormous potential. Texas has done a phenomenal job in leading the nation in their commitment to wind power. It seems that now is the time to focus on the sun’s contribution.

Your Solar Vote Counts
Comprised of the world’s largest solar manufacturers, installers and integraters, the Solar Alliance was launched on Wednesday, September 12th. By Friday, and pouring into the weekend, our office was flooded with phone calls and emails expressing everything from: “congratulations on ‘targeting states’ – I hope mine (Arizona) is one of them”; to how can our company become a Member; to a 23 year investment professional from Michigan who wants to support a Michigan chapter of the Solar Alliance; to a Denver lawyer wondering what role the legal profession can play; to a retired state legislator simply enthusiastic about volunteering.

People are ready, not just to see solar take it’s rightful place in the energy mix, but more importantly, to be part of the effort to make that happen. Our members are the trailblazers and expert professionals who have been assisting the leading solar states to develop their thriving markets.

So if you too are anxious for solar energy to be available from a utility near you, remember to connect the dots; it makes all the difference in the world for whom you vote. You do have control. You can make a difference.

Claudine Schneider is a former U.S. Congresswoman (1980-1990) (R. R.I.), renewable energy entrepreneur (Energia Global), RE advisor to the Export-Import Bank, National Grid, EPA Climate Leaders and WilderHill Index, co-founder of two non-profits and lecturer who would like you to urge your elected officials to visit www.solaralliance.org.

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