There have been a number of positive developments for the solar industry in the U.S. in 2019 to date. The biggest news so far has to be the movement toward 100% renewable energy. Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Washington, and Washington, D.C. all codified their commitment to 100% renewable energy earlier this year—that’s a total of seven states and U.S. territories! They join California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Minnesota which have also formally committed to 100% clean or renewable energy targets.
Two other big wins are community solar and residential net metering. Colorado and Maine enabled larger-scale community solar projects, and South Carolina provided pathways for community solar to grow; Maryland extended their pilot program through 2022. Maine restored their residential net metering that the previous administration rolled back, and South Carolina eliminated net metering caps while extending existing rates for two years. In addition to committing to 100% renewable energy, Puerto Rico also protected net metering for five years in the same bill.
There is a lot of work still to be done for solar in the U.S., but with many of the solar policy development highlights from 2019 being positive, a quick celebration for these wins is in order!
Earlier this year Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a flurry of climate and renewable energy bills, seven to be exact! Among them is the Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act (HB 19-1003) which increases the maximum size of community solar projects from 2 MW to 5 MW, with the cap eventually increasing to 10 MW.
Polis also unveiled a roadmap that would take Colorado to 100% renewable energy by 2040.
[Fun Fact: The Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm in Fort Collins, Colorado is the largest low-income community solar project in the U.S. at 1.95 MW.]
Maine is also having a great year in solar friendly bills. Governor Janet Mills signed three big solar energy wins—committing the state to 100% renewable energy by 2050, reducing barriers to access clean and affordable solar power, and restoring net metering.
An Act To Reform Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (LD 1494) increases the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 40% today to 80% by 2030, with a goal of 100% by 2050. Among many other benefits, An Act to Promote Solar Energy Projects & Distributed Generation Resources (LD 1711) will create new jobs, create a grant program to support the installation of over 375 MW of distributed solar, and enable larger-scale community solar projects.
Additionally, An Act to Eliminate Gross Metering (LD 91) restored residential net metering in Maine. Maine for many years had net metering, but it was rolled back during the administration of former Maine Governor Paul LePage. Now, residents who own their systems will again receive a one-to-one credit for supplying excess energy back to the grid—a huge win for solar customers in the state!
Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act (SB 516) became law without Governor Larry Hogan’s signature, and commits the state to 100% renewable energy by 2040, with an interim goal of 50% by 2030. This bill also increases the requirement for 2.5% in-state produced solar to 14.5%, provides funding for clean energy workforce development, and requires utilities in the state to subsidize solar and wind. The in-state solar requirement is especially noteworthy because it’s one of the most aggressive (if not the most) of any state RPS policy.
Community solar also got a win in Maryland with the enactment of Extension of Community Solar pilot (HB 683), which extended the state’s community solar pilot program through 2022. The bill also removed the cap on the number of subscribers per project and increased the allowable generating capacity per system.
On Earth Day, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed SB 358 and raised the state’s RPS to 50% by 2030 and committed the state to 100% clean energy by 2050. This legislation sped up what Nevada voters approved last year—to include an increase to the state’s RPS in their constitution; the state now does not need to hold the second vote required to approve constitutional change.
In March, New Mexico officially committed to 100% renewable energy by 2045, with interim targets of 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2040 when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Energy Transition Act (SB 489).
The state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), also supports the bill. PNM had already filed plans to shut down its coal assets, and SB 489 provides a system to help ease the closure of San Juan Generating Station. It establishes a financing system to make up for revenue lost, a $20 million fund to aid displaced coal workers, and job training programs for the renewable energy industry.
On April 11th, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello signed the Puerto Rico Public Policy Act (SB 1121) committing 100% renewable energy bill by 2050 with interim goals of 40% by 2025 and 50% by 2040. This bill also requires a complete transition away from coal by 2028; there is only one coal plant on the island.
Additionally, it protects net metering for five years, mandates automatic interconnection for systems under 25 KW, and reduces approval time to 90 days for commercial and industrial solar projects. Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority is planning to rebuild the island’s grid into eight mini-grids.
In South Carolina, net metering caps were eliminated and existing residential solar rates were extended for two years with Governor Henry McMaster’s signature for The Energy Freedom Act (HB 3659 / SB 332). This bill also provides pathways for community solar to grow and removes restrictions to expansion of affordable solar options.
Washington not only committed to 100% renewable energy by 2045 with Governor Jay Inslee’s signature on the 100% Clean Electricity bill (SB 5116 / HB 1211), the bill also requires the state’s utilities to ramp off of coal power completely by 2025 and to be 100% carbon-neutral by 2030.
In January, Governor Muriel Bowser signed the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 (B22-0904) setting a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2032. This bill is by far the most ambitious in terms of target date for all electricity sold to come from renewable sources. Among other action items, this bill will double the District’s required amount of solar energy, provide energy bill assistance to low- and moderate-income residents, and fund the DC Green Bank to attract clean energy projects.
These state actions in the first half of 2019 paint a positive picture for the future of the solar industry and are great news for solar contractors. What other policy developments are you excited about? Let us know in the comments below!
Sunny Wang is Aurora Solar’s Director of Government Affairs and Communications. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of a new interdisciplinary research initiative at Stanford University. She received her Masters in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University and graduated Pi Alpha Alpha from CSU, Fullerton.