Last week GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012, an annual report that tracks growth in the solar industry. The report was largely positive, with the U.S. experiencing 76% growth over 2011 and fully 3.3 gigawatts of solar installed throughout the country. It also projected that more, 4.2 gigawatts of solar, will be installed in 2013. Both photovoltaics and concentrating solar power experienced record growth across the U.S. last year. But during a conference call discussing the report, SEIA CEO Rhone Resch highlighted some clouds that could slow the powerful movement towards more solar. As it’s become an increasingly popular energy source, its fossil fuel foes are fighting back by promoting legislation at the state level that would make solar more expensive and shrink markets for solar. Already such legislation was introduced in Ohio, North Carolina and Vermont.
“There are a lot of challenges that are occurring to RPS’s [i.e., renewable portfolio standards] and we’re finding that most of those are occurring from frankly conservative think-tanks, like Goldwater in Arizona and the Heartland Institute. Obviously these are funded by fossil fuel interests; some in part by the Koch brothers. And this very conservative approach is focused on these states and introducing legislation that frankly goes completely against what the voters want,” Resch said.
An overwhelming majority of the public—over 90% of voters of all stripes want more solar, according to Resch. They also want more wind and geothermal energy. And in more states, solar energy is becoming a more significant part of states‘ economies. This includes states like Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio, for instance. “We are now starting to become a significant part of the new energy generation in these states and they’re recognizing us as a threat,” he said. “So you have a huge funding source coming from the fossil fuel industry trying to roll these back because we are now starting to gain hold … So their technique that they’re going to use is to dump millions of dollars into trying to roll back RPS’s across a large number of states.”
Resch cited actions in Ohio and North Carolina. “Those states have made huge economic strides in the solar industry. In Ohio both with manufacturing as well as in development. And in North Carolina there’s a pipeline of over 400 megawatts of projects to be developed this next year,” he said.
Legislation introduced in North Carolina last week, House Bill 298, “The Affordable and Reliable Energy Act,” would eliminate the state’s RPS, which has been responsible for much of the renewable energy growth in the state, including biomass, solar and wind energy generation. The legislation was proposed by a group of Republican Representative: Representatives: Mike Hager, Jeff Collins, Marilyn Avila, George Cleveland and Justin Burr and would give monopolistic utilities in the more control, according the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA). “This monopoly control of our utilities limits innovation and market competition; however, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, the portion of Senate Bill 3 that House Bill 298 attempts to eliminate, was the first real opportunity for clean energy companies to compete with the utilities and offer consumers a choice,” said NCSEA’s Director of Government Affairs Betsy McCorkle. Since introduction the legislation was sent for discussion in four committees, which should slow it down—if not kill it entirely.
In Ohio legislation at least two anti-solar bills were introduced in February by Republicans. State Senator Kris Jordan sponsored Senate Bill 216, which would repeal Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). The bill would repeal Senate Bill 221 of the 127th General Assembly, which established the RPS—oddly enough it was passed by a Republican-led legislature. “It is my strong conviction that the choice of energy supply should come from the demands of the free market, and not from policy makers and environmental lobbyists,” Jordan said. “Competition is the fuel for efficiency and cost savings and I believe that Senate Bill 221 needs to be revisited to ensure competitive energy pricing for our constituents.” And State Sen. Bill Seitz introduced a placeholder bill (SB 58) to re-evaluate the RPS in February.
Vermont, which in 2011 eliminated permitting requirements and associated fees for residential and small solar, legislation S.30 was introduced that would add in more permitting and fees for solar and put a moratorium on new wind energy in the state. Over 150 businesses in the state signed a letter to legislators opposing the proposed legislation. In the letter they observed that the bill “began as a three-year ban on wind power development and was amended to significantly impact all new Vermont energy generation above 500kW.” However, “This current legislation exempts transmission projects and oil and gas pipelines, while serving as a temporary de facto ban on clean distributed renewables, which produce local energy, local jobs, local economic benefits and keep our dollars in our state.”
SEIA and its partners and chapters aren’t taking the issue lying down however. During the webcast Resch said: “We are very actively involved in a number of [states] including Colorado, Arizona and a few others.” He added, “We’re focused on trying to make sure we are working with some of the other states we’re not as active with to make sure our industry has a voice both from a communications perspective and a legislative perspective.”