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Are Doors Opening or Closing for Residential Solar?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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From coast to coast, residential solar has become a hot topic as several states address climate plans, zero emissions and clean energy. But how have these rapid changes impacted communities and the utility companies that serve them? California’s rooftop solar mandate for all new home construction gave the solar industry a real boost.  However, the solar market was doing well before the state required solar panels on all new homes.  In fact, 2019 saw a record number of energy customers in California switching to solar energy.  The California Solar Initiative report found that the state had exceeded their goal of 3,000 megawatts by 241 percent.  Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the solar industry in California is facing a possible shakeup.  California utility regulators proposed a controversial plan to reduce the benefits to homeowners with rooftop solar panels.  The plan reduces how much residents are paid for electricity generation by 80 percent.  Concerns about the long-term effects are being voiced by solar industry business owners and their employees.  Since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the million solar roof’s initiative into law in 2006, the industry has supported 68,000 jobs.  Current California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “I just had a chance to review and I’ll say this about the plan: We still have some work to do.”  The proposal has been tabled for now but not before thousands of demonstrators in Los Angeles and San Francisco took to the streets to speak out against the proposal.

Across the country, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) announced the first phase of a program designed to expand solar energy.  “The expanded solar-for-all program will provide community solar bill credits to low-income customers, who have not had adequate opportunities to participate in clean energy,” PSC Chair Rory M. Christian said.  In line with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), from 2019, the PSC authorized $573 million in additional funding to drive distributed solar development in New York. “National Grid has nearly 160,000 customers participating in its EAP [energy affordability program], and all of them will receive benefits from this new program,” Christian said.

In the Heartland, utilities are turning to solar to meet their renewable energy goals. MidAmerican Energy announced$3.9 billion proposal to build more than 2,000 MW of wind and 50 MW of solar capacity, which is enough to meet its Iowa customers’ annual needs with renewable generation.  Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that MidAmerican's research into "emerging clean-energy technologies will help Iowa meet the growing demand for a sustainable economy.”  The push for solar has also seen its share of opposition.  Last year utilities proposed a solar project that would require thousands of acres.  Rural residents and farming communities worry about the rise in costs for the land that remains.  MidAmerican Energy hasn't said where the new wind and solar projects would be built but have shown interest in developing solar projects in Webster and Adair counties and near Sioux City, Waterloo, Iowa City and Hampton.  MidAmerican CEO Kelcey Brown said regarding their Wind Prime plan, "the project also includes solar energy generation and the examination of new clean energy technologies that will be an important part of the net-zero transition.”

Utilities have implemented solar and wind to provide clean energy options and meet climate goals.  As renewables become mainstream, how will utilities adjust?  How has the influx of residential solar impacted utilities so far and once adopted, how soon should utility incentives and benefits be reduced?

 

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