The U.S. has seen a massive surge in interest in solar over the past few years. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the country saw record new solar installation in the third quarter of 2011 and added capacity has nearly doubled or even more than doubled each year for several years.
The growing number of investors in the sector as well as businesses choosing to adopt rooftop solar installations illustrates how far the cost of the technology has come, but several popular national solar incentives have played an important role as well. As part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package the government began to offer a federal tax rebate program worth 30 percent of the installed cost of a solar system.
Just as importantly, however, the 1603 grant program offered cash up front in place of these tax rebates, helping provide immediate funding for new solar installations. However, PV Magazine reports that despite a vigorous advocacy campaign from renewable energy groups like SEIA and more than 760 others, the 1603 program was allowed to expire at the end of 2011. A report sponsored by SEIA suggests that a one-year extension of the program could have created more than 37,000 jobs and added more than 2,000 megawatts of solar by 2016.
Nevertheless, the end of the program was largely expected and the solar industry and SEIA are already looking to the next battleground. In particular, the organization announced recently its plans to merge with fellow advocacy group Solar Alliance.
SEIA has focused to a large degree on national policy issues such as the 1603 program, taking a broader perspective. But with the failure to save that program and the growing success of state-level solar incentives in California, New Jersey, Colorado and other states, the group hopes to take a more active hand in directing these policies.
Current Solar Alliance president Carrie Cullen Hitt will join SEIA as the head of a new department for State Affairs, looking to more actively direct state and regional SEIA branches that have often been left to their own devices in the past.
“We have tremendous opportunities for opening markets for solar across all regions,” Hitt said in a statement. “With the Solar Alliance now a part of SEIA, we have the unified voice that is necessary on the policy front, both in Washington and in the states, to really take the U.S. solar industry to the next level.”