Last weekend, the New York Times took a look at changing GOP perspectives on solar – particularly rooftop solar – as more conservatives embrace renewables. The article highlights rooftop solar-supporting conservatives like Barry Goldwater Jr. and Tom Morrissey from Arizona, and Debbie Dooley from Georgia. The piece describes a shift in GOP attitudes toward rooftop solar, which represents a competitive threat to monopoly utilities:
“One would not expect to see Barry Goldwater Jr., the very picture of modern conservatism and son of the 1964 Republican nominee for president, arguing passionately on behalf of solar energy customers. But there he was last fall, very publicly opposing a push by Arizona’s biggest utility to charge as much as $100 a month to people who put solar panels on their roofs.”
Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Party Movement emphasizes a point that should be integral to all energy discussions: “The [monopoly utilities] neglect to mention billions of dollars that the fossil-fuel industries have received.”
Yes – conveniently for utilities, they never talk about the tens of billions of dollars in permanent subsidies they’ve received over the past century. These fossil fuel subsidies are entrenched in the tax code.
For example, since the US began subsidizing energy, the average annual subsidy has been $4.86 billion for oil and gas and just $370 million for all renewable technologies (Source: “What Would Jefferson Do”).
One good example of these subsidies (there are many): Percentage depletion allows fossil fuel companies to take a substantial tax deduction (15% of gross revenue for oil and gas; 10% for coal) for using up reserves of natural resources. This costs the American taxpayer about $1 billion per year.
The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) advocates for maintaining successful distributed solar energy policies, such as retail net metering, throughout the United States. Retail net metering (NEM) provides fair credit to residents, businesses, churches, schools, and other public agencies when their solar systems export excess energy to the grid. The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) was formed on the belief that anyone should have the option to switch from utility power to distributed solar power, and realize the financial benefits therein. The rooftop solar market has been largely driven by Americans’ desire to assert control over their electric bills, a trend that should be encouraged.
Fighting emissions regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency must be a winning national electoral issue, right? Otherwise why would so many politicians fight so hard to allow power plants to keep spewing pollution into the air?
By wide margins, voters in 11 states considered in play for 2014 Senate elections not only support emissions regulation, but trust EPA to administer the policy and say they’re less likely to vote for candidates who either oppose EPA’s proposal or deny climate change.
Wide Support For EPA Across State & Party Lines
74% of voters support EPA’s proposals to limit power plant emissions. That support cuts across states Barack Obama (73%) and Mitt Romney (73%) as well as party identification for Democrats (92%), independents (72%), and Republicans (58%). “The anti-environmental message is a losing argument with the American people,” blogged Gene Karpinski, LCV President.
The LCV poll derived these findings from telephone interviews on October 9-13 with 1,113 likely voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia.
It’s also probably not surprising to learn the public wants EPA to regulate emissions, not Congress. At the height of the government shutdown, voters preferred EPA regulation to Congressional action by a 5-to-1 margin, 66% to 12%
Anti-EPA Stance & Climate Denial Cost Votes
In fact, EPA opposition may actually turn out to be a harmful policy position for 2014 candidates. Nearly half (48%) of all voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposed emissions regulation, while only 17% said they’d be more likely to vote for that candidate. By comparison, 44% of voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported power plant emissions regulations by EPA.
When presented with both sides of the argument (war on coal, higher electricity prices, and job killer were used against regulation while climate change, public health, and protecting the planet were used for regulation), 64% of voters said they wanted their senator to support EPA’s proposal.
Those same trends translate to voter perceptions about the threat of climate change. 65% of voters say climate change is a serious problem nationwide, and surprisingly say so at a higher rate in Romney states (67%) compared to Obama states (64%).
And if candidates deny climate change, they may be shooting their campaigns in the foot. 63% of voters said hearing their Senate candidate deny climate change would make them view the candidate less favorably than one recognizing basic science.
Pro-Climate Trends Taking Shape One Year Out
Election Day 2014 could be a major turning point for clean energy and climate policy – if Republicans keep the House of Representatives and take control of the Senate, action would grind to a halt for the rest of Obama’s term. However, if Democrats cut into the GOP’s House majority and hold the Senate, Obama could cement his progressive legacy by pushing through renewables support and emissions reduction goals.
LCV’s latest survey tracks with a bipartisan poll from July 2013 that found young voters “intensely supportive” of action to fight climate change, and willing to punish those who ignore the problem. Now that those trends are showing up across the wider US population, on broader policy fronts, it might just be time to scrap that climate-denier, anti-EPA playbook.
You probably know which states have been strong solar growth states over the past several years — California, Hawaii, Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina…. But below are 4 states and one city that are picking up some serious steam in the solar power arena (can I use “pick up steam” with solar PV?), and that you probably wouldn’t guess are primed to become solar leaders.
GTM Research, which revealed these at Solar Power International last week, has termed them “hidden growth opportunities.” GTM Research projects a total of over 1 gigawatt (1 billion watts) of solar PV demand in these markets between the second half of this year (2013) and 2016. That’s a lot. Solar panel suppliers are going to love these 5 markets.
So, let’s very quickly check out these hot (or soon to be hot) solar markets (in no particular order):
Not exactly the sunniest state in the US, state requirements that utilities get 1.5% of their electricity from solar power and 10% from distributed, small-scale power generation systems (systems 20 kilowatts or smaller, such as home solar systems), as well as net metering (which allows solar power producers to sell their electricity back to the grid at retail electricity prices) for systems up to 1 megawatt (MW) in size, could help boost Minnesota’s solar power capacity from about 13 MW today to about 450 MW by 2016. We’ll see….
Notably, for homeowners who go solar in Minnesota, you’re expected (on average) to get a 10% internal rate of return (IRR) on your investment, which beats the S&P 50-year CAGR of 9.9% — very, very good.
Virginia has low electricity rates and not the best solar resources around. So, how is this state showing up as a hot solar market? Well, a Virginia law, HB 2334, requires that Virginia’s large utility, Dominion Energy, implement a 50-megawatt PPA renewable energy pilot program. 50 megawatts is a sizable pilot project, and who knows what it might stimulate? Virginia also has net metering. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much else going for it when it comes to solar power, except perhaps a lot of people who would like to rely on their own clean electricity source while also saving money. Those are a couple of big incentives, aren’t they?
Investing in solar in Virginia may not be as lucrative as investing in solar in Minnesota, but it’s still projected to save/make the average homeowner more than investing in a 30-year U.S. Treasury Bond or 5-year CD. Homeowners should be going solar in a heartbeat for the IRR available here.
Yes, here’s the non-state. so, I’m sure you’re wondering: what does this little city have that so big to have put it in this list? For one, 2.5 percent of DC power must be from solar by 2023 (projected to be about 250 MW of power capacity). And the city has an undersupplied Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) market, meaning there’s a lot of need for growth there. Also, net metering in DC is allowed for projects up to 5 MW in size (quite large), allowing for more people to take part in (and profit from) relatively large solar projects, even “community solar gardens.”
Investing in solar in DC has a better average IRR than in any state in the US other than Hawaii. 20%! It’s almost a crime to own a roof in DC and not invest in solar power. Also, thanks to the city’s progressive net metering law, even if you don’t own a roof but live in DC, you can take advantage of that great IRR by investing in a community solar garden. Solar panel suppliers must be drooling looking at the DC market.
Louisiana has great solar resources, but almost no solar power installed. GTM Research seems to be hopeful that the market will wake up a bit down there in the coming few years. While there aren’t state requirements for utilities to increase their use of solar power, there is net metering and a state tax credit for solar panel installations through 2017. On average, the projected IRR for someone who goes solar in Louisiana is an extremely attractive 9.4%. It’s a no-brainer.
Another Southern state with little solar power capacity today and a lot of room for growth is Georgia. A few big new policies look to grow the solar market in Georgia considerably, even though solar leasing remains off the table legally. As GTM writes: “Demand for solar in Georgia will be driven by an attractive feed-in tariff and utility-scale RFPs for twenty-year PPAs. The Georgia Advanced Solar Initiative offers 13 cents per kilowatt-hour for distributed generation and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour for utility-scale solar.” Once those are in place, hold on to your hands, solar power installations are going to be flying into place all over the state.
All in all, cities and states across the country are looking to see a lot of solar power growth in the coming years. ¾ of US solar power installations were connected to the grid within just the past 2½ years, ⅔ of solar PV panels shipped around the world by solar panel suppliers have been shipped just within the past 2½ years, and that pattern of rapid solar growth is expected to continue. Solar panel costs have dropped about 60% since early 2011. There’s no reversing that dramatic fall. The market is maturing, and as a market matures, costs come down.
Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
You have probably heard of certain cities which have particularly high electric car ownership rates, often due to their generous incentives. Can you name which five cities have over 50% of the electric cars sold in the US?
Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.