US: Solar under attack in leading PV states

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In a new report, Environment America Research & Policy Center finds that solar is under attack the most in U.S. states where it has flourished most strongly, such as Nevada.

Indeed, Nevada has the most solar capacity per person in the U.S., with three solar panels installed for every two residents of the state. Yet solar’s soaring success in the state appears to have galvanized its its foes.

NV Energy, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and part of Warren Buffett’s multinational conglomerate, successfully pushed for the state to eliminate net metering last year, which resulted in a 93% drop in rooftop solar applications from one month to the next.

It’s a trend also seen in other rich solar markets. “The more solar grows, the more big utilities try to stop it,” says Bret Fanshaw, solar program coordinator at Environment America and a co-author of the report, Lighting the Way 4. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, major utilities are working across the country to undermine the policies that have helped states become solar leaders.”

The leading states for solar capacity per capita — Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have for years supported solar development with clean energy policies, including strong net metering programs and interconnection standards, the report notes.

“But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under assault from utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model,” Environment America says.

Like Nevada, Hawaii also eliminated its net metering program, with regulators stressing that the move was essential in view of the high levels of distributed renewable energy already achieved in the state. In California, solar proponents managed to defeat a similar utility assault on the state’s net-metering program.

"As we’ve seen in many states, California’s big utilities proposed to cut net metering credit and add major new fees for customers who want to go solar," said Susannah Churchill, West Coast regional director for Vote Solar. "After careful consideration of both the facts and input from diverse stakeholders, California regulators voted to preserve solar – standing strong for progress, for innovation, and for the public interest.”

Meanwhile, in Arizona, a major utility successfully introduced fees on new solar customers, dampening rooftop solar power growth in its 1 million-person service area, while two other utilities in the state are pushing for similar charges as well as the elimination of their retail net metering programs.

Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in the 10 leading-edge states, which account for 88% of the country’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. Indeed, the U.S. reached the 1 million-installation mark and it is expected to add another million by 2018.

“For the fourth year in a row, our research shows how pro-clean energy policies, not necessarily availability of sunlight, determines which states lead the way on solar,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, who co-authored the report.