PROVIDENCE – Today, Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center released a new report, Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013, ranking states and showing strong solar growth across the nation. The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy to help capture the virtually unlimited and pollution-free energy from the sun.
Rhode Island’s progress on solar has helped fuel a tripling of solar energy nationwide between 2011 and 2013. Though Rhode Island did not make the cut of the nation’s leading ten states for solar power, recent legislation now positions the state well to begin reaping the benefits of the sun. The bills passed earlier in June would expand Rhode Island’s cornerstone renewable energy program, bringing an additional 160 megawatts in coming years to the program’s existing 40 megawatts. The expansion would also create a new class for residential-scale solar projects, allowing individual property owners to collect an incentive for producing renewable energy.
“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in Rhode Island and across the country,” said Aian Binlayo on behalf of Environment Rhode Island. “Thanks to the commitment of Rhode Island’s leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping the Ocean State meet our energy needs and our emission reduction targets.”
“The Distributed Generation Jobs Growth law is good environmental policy as we move away from dirty fossil fuels to renewables—wind, hydro, solar, and anaerobic digestion, and it’s good economic policy creating 250 jobs in Rhode Island”, says sponsor Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (Jamestown/Middletown), “collaboration is the brilliance of good policy and the success of the DG program is a result of collaboration with environmentalists, developers, and the state’s main electric utility.”
Solar in the United States increased more than 120-fold in the last 10 years. In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all the new electric generation capacity installed in the United States. Ten states with the most solar installed per/capita are driving 89% of the solar installed in the U.S, while, representing only 26 percent of the population and 20 percent of the electricity consumption.
“Investing in solar energy reduces air and water pollution and will make us more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” said Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. “With this year’s expansion of the distributed generation and net metering programs, we are on a path to achieving our city and state clean energy goals, protecting our environment, strengthening our local economy, and building a clean energy future for Rhode Island.”
"We are excited about the future of solar in Rhode Island,” says Dr. Marion Gold, Commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources. “Along with generating local economic opportunities, solar energy will play a big role as part of a secure, cost-effective, and sustainable energy future for the Ocean State."
And as the solar industry grows, the cost for installed solar decreases; making it more accessible. The price of installed solar systems fell 60 percent between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2013. Jobs in the solar industry are also growing rapidly. In 2013, there were more than 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., including 340 in Rhode Island.
Another major driver for solar energy is that it produces no pollution; including climate-altering carbon emissions. According the report, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life-cycle and 91 percent less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.
Several strong policies adopted by the top 10 solar state helped encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar:”
- 9 states have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.
- 9 states have strong statewide interconnection policies. Good interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
- All 10 states have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 8 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.
- 9 states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and 8 allow property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.
Rhode Island now has many of the policies in place to make it a player on solar. In addition to the recent expansion of the state’s distributed generation law, Rhode Island has net metering and a 16 percent by 2019 renewable energy standard. In 2012, the legislature adopted PACE enabling legislation, which is scheduled to take effect in January of next year.
“Rhode Island officials deserve tremendous credit for recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of solar and taking action to make it a reality,” said Binlayo. “As more people see the benefits of solar energy, we’re confident clean, limitless energy from the sun will be a growing part of Rhode Island’s plan to reduce pollution from power plants.”