Published by Center for Biological Diversity
The United States is in need of a swift transition to a 100 percent renewable energy system to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, and we have the technology and demand to make this happen. Unfortunately much of the public sector emphasis and investment thus far has been in large-scale renewable-energy development. This poses serious threats to endangered species, sensitive habitats and communities that are often left to bear the consequences of our energy system’s public health and economic losses without aid.
Obtaining a significant portion of our energy from clean sources within the already-built environment would allow us to address climate change and meet our energy needs without paving over the planet, and it could help to alleviate some of the strain our energy system has on low-income communities and communities of color. Distributed sources such as photovoltaic (PV) solar built on existing structures have the potential to meet significant electricity and heating/cooling needs with much less environmental impact than conventional fossil fuels and, in certain conditions, could provide the same energy with fewer adverse effects than other renewable sources.
Current state and federal policies and regulatory structures are not sufficient to meet the high levels of diffusion of distributed PV generation we need to reach a just and wildlife-friendly energy future. State policies, which in many ways determine the success of energy markets, largely fail to support distributed solar growth. State legislation determines how utilities work with home and business owners to connect their distributed solar energy systems to the electric grid, whether solar system owners get paid for excess generation supplied to the grid, and whether there is any support for low-income home owners or individuals that would otherwise have a hard time installing solar panels on their own. In many states there simply are no policies in place that guarantee fair treatment by utilities to solar customers, and in many states there are active barriers in place to prevent utility customers from “going solar.” Furthermore, in many states where policies have been successful in encouraging distributed solar market growth, utilities and corporate interests have been fighting to remove or weaken these policies — waging a “war on rooftop solar.” Without strong distributed solar policies, individuals and businesses are often left without options to fund or install solar energy systems on their property. With active barriers in place in many states, property owners are prohibited from installing solar panels even if they have the funds.
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.
Although Virginia does have a couple of policies in place supporting its distributed solar market, such as solar-access rights and strong interconnection standards, it only has a voluntary RPS with no solar carve-out, unclear legality for third-party ownership and no community solar. Without mandatory and meaningful goals, the RPS doesn’t provide any real incentive to promote distributed or utility-scale solar development.
The state’s weak net metering improved slightly when the legislature signed S.B. 1395 into law in March 2015, which allowed for more mid-size installations by increasing the net-metering system size limits from 500 kW to 1000 kW. However, this is still an overall weak program in that it requires that customers create a power purchase agreement with their utility, which is up to the utility’s discretion, prior to connecting their PV solar system to the grid. This barrier prevents potential solar customers from accessing net-metering program benefits and ultimately gives all power to the utility rather than ensuring solar customers are compensated fairly for the energy they provide.
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