4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy

by Silvio Marcacci

Pro-solar energy state-level energy policies are arguably as strong right now as they’ve ever been across America, just in time for consumers to take advantage of affordable technologies to generate their own clean electricity.

Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) concluded the policy outlook for distributed generation from solar energy is bright as ever in Freeing the Grid 2013, the 7th annual report card ranking all 50 US states on net metering and interconnection policies.

The report helps policymakers, regulators, and renewable advocates understand the best approaches to these two wonky but critical influences on the growth of solar energy and small-scale renewables across the country. States are “graded” on an A to F scale depending on their policies – and America’s grades just keep getting better.

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid
Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

Sustaining Solar Energy’s Surge

Thanks to plummeting prices, solar power installations are surging across the US, especially among middle class families. But with many state incentive programs set to expire in coming years, progressive net metering and interconnection policies need to be in place in order to sustain the solar boom.

“Renewable resources are now at the scale and cost necessary to allow them to be a real and growing part of our energy landscape,” said Adam Browning, Vote Solar executive director.

Now that we’ve built this new energy economy, it’s critical we keep the way clear for Americans to keep going solar with strong net metering and interconnection policies.”

Net metering is the more controversial and thus better-known policy. At its most basic, net metering means homes or businesses who have installed their own solar systems are paid in full for the electricity they generate but don’t consume and put back onto the grid. Net metering threatens many existing utility business models and has led to high-visibility fights in states like Arizona, California, and Colorado.

By comparison, interconnection is the more boring of the two, often not even registering a blip on most people’s radar screens. However, it may be the more important policy for the future of solar energy. Interconnection procedures are the rules a solar system must follow in order to “plug” into the grid, meaning net metering may not even come into play until solar panels can interconnect.

Good Grades On Net Metering & Interconnection

But enough with the wonky background – let’s get to the good news. More than two-thirds of US states now receive an A or B grade on net metering, with zero states getting a worse grade in 2013 than in 2012. In order to get an A or B, customers must receive full retail value for electricity contributed to the grid, and the state must maintain several other pro-solar policies.

The results for interconnection are a bit less impressive – while half of US states received an A or B grade, the rest are in need of significant improvement. In order to get an A or B, states must maintain good interconnection rules that incorporate best practices, with few or no customers blocked from interconnecting their systems.

Many states should be commended for having good policies in place, but four in particular, aka the “head of the class” states, lead the nation. California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Utah (surprisingly) received top grades in both net metering and interconnection policy. California, the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, and Massachusetts, home to one of the country’s fastest-growing green economies, aren’t a surprise, but Utah and Oregon seem primed for solar growth.

Freeing the Grid also recognized Washington as its “most improved” state, with a big jump from a D to a B in interconnection procedures by removing unnecessary requirements and procedures for smaller systems and expediting review of larger systems.

Best Practices Light The Way Forward

America is just now starting its transition to a clean economy. Renewables, and solar energy in particular, are becoming a real part of a distributed generation power system that moves toward grid freedom away from a traditional infrastructure of centralized fossil fuel generation and hundreds of miles of inefficient transmission lines. With nearly 20 best practices listed for states to emulate, the path forward is clear.

“Policy design on the frontiers of our fast-changing clean energy marketplace can be a challenge to get right,” said Jane Weissman, IREC president and CEO.

Freeing the Grid helps policymakers and other stakeholders make better sense of best practices and what needs to be done in their own state to clear the way for a 21st century approach to energy.”

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

This article, 4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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A Community Solar Gold Standard?

by John Farrell — Special to JBS News

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Westmill Solar Cooperative 1-640x424
Image is provided for illustrative purposes only. Photo courtesy: Westmill Solar Cooperative

Joy Hughes was living in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, a place with a “tremendous amount of solar potential” so good that the valley’s residents were being overwhelmed by proposals for large-scale solar power plants. One had a “field of things like radar dishes” and another included a “600 foot tower.” The influx of outside companies seeking solar profit led Joy to ask, “Why not just set up solar arrays that can provide power for people in the local community and offset their electric bills?”

The Solar Gardens Institute was born, with a vision of helping community members pool their resources, produce their own energy, and keep their energy dollars local.

Listen to the Podcast (Local Energy Rules): Play in new window | Download | Embed

A Contest of Who Could Type As Fast As Possible

One of the Institute’s first initiatives was Colorado’s nascent solar gardens legislation, a national prototype for community shared renewable energy. The bill passed in 2010, and after two years in rulemaking the 9 megawatt (MW) program sold out in 30 minutes. While it was a good framework for encouraging community solar, “it became a contest of who could type as fast as possible,” said Hughes, who felt that the application process (and other aspects) weighted against some of the more authentically community-based projects.

The Colorado law had many good things, including requirements for participation by low-income participants, geographic proximity of subscribers to the solar project, and slightly higher incentives for smaller community solar projects. The last is what make these small projects possible, Joy said, and gets them closer to where people are using the electricity. The proximity also makes technical sense for small communities, because “a substation can take in about as much as it can put out.”

A Community Solar Gold Standard

Joy also identified several potential improvements to the Colorado law. For one, she’d like to see community solar projects have a choice over their renewable energy credits (RECs). Some non-profit projects would rather retire them instead of being required to give them to the utility. She’d also like to see improved selection criteria for projects (with a preference for those that are close to load, have local ownership, use local labor, or are financed with crowdfunding).

Joy is excited about the new community solar guidelines coming from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), an open process that will help decide on a “gold standard” for community solar. There are also community solar laws being proposed in several other states, including California, Washington, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Maryland, DC, Hawaii (Minnesota’s almost-passed solar energy standard also features a provision for community solar).

Removing Barriers and Moving Ahead

Joy also discussed how to remove some of the barriers to community renewable energy at the federal level. One, remove the tax equity bottleneck by passing the SUN Act to allow individuals to get tax credit with a community solar project. Offer exemptions in securities laws to let people get credits on their bill or other methods of repayment, helping avoid financial disclosures that run to 90 pages and that “nobody can really do without a lot of attorneys.” She also wants to see more open source legal documents and other strategies that create “a level playing field for small players.”

For more on community solar, you can read our 2010 report on community solar or check out the Solar Gardens Institute, where your project can get on their community solar map or you can find assistance in financing a project and finding subscribers.

This is the 9th edition of Local Energy Rules, a new ILSR podcast that is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday. In this podcast series, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell talks with people putting together great community renewable energy projects and examining how energy policies help or hurt the development of clean, local power.

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This article, A Community Solar Gold Standard?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

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