Last Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced solar legislation that has sent the solar industry into a hopeful tizzy: his bill, the 10 Million Solar Roofs and 10 Million Gallons of Solar Water Heating Act of 2010, would authorize rebates and other incentives with the aim of supporting up to half the net installed cost—after factoring in existing federal and state incentives—of 10 million photovoltaic solar systems and 200,000 solar hot water systems across the country. Residential, commercial, government and non-profit solar systems alike would be eligible for the rebates.
Tomorrow, California's state legislature will vote on lifting the current cap on the amount of energy in the state's energy portfolio that can come from net-metered solar installations. Set at 2.5 percent, the net metering cap once seemed generous but now seems low--dangerously low, in fact, for the California solar industry. Successful solar incentives have encouraged nearly 460 MW of solar installations just within the service territories of the three investor-owned utilities (for more on the California Solar Initiative, start here).
California solar energy plant developers asked the Renewable Energy Policy Group this past Friday if environmental approval processes could be sped up, since projects are making little to no progress towards their 2010 construction goals--goals that must be reached if the projects are to qualify for specific federal funds. This frustration with the slow pace of approval has become something of a theme with solar development in the southwest and California. Various bills have been proposed that would (a) speed up the approval processes for solar energy plants or (b) at least provide clearer environmental guidelines for plant development to make it easier to predict the success or failure of a project. Developers don't see why separate guidelines need to be established--can't they just use the guidelines in place for other large desert developments? Why is solar so much more complicated?
When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) spoke earlier this week about the need to ramp up clean energy production in the state, she raised a few hackles by emphasizing her interest in nuclear power. It's not a renewable technology, of course, but it's emissions-free, and as we all know the list of pros and cons might as well be endless for all the controversy it causes. The Arizona Times pointed out that the last nuclear plant in the country was completed two decades ago about an hour outside of Phoenix. Since then, we've steered clear, but Brewer thinks nuclear should not only be part of the state's energy solution moving forward, but the "cornerstone".
With ambitious initiatives such as its Solar Stimulus Program and a target of installing 250 megawatts' worth of solar-generating capacity in the state by 2017, Massachusetts has shown itself to be a vanguard in the U.S. push for solar, and the latest news to emerge from the Commonwealth further bolsters this reputation: having tapped out its $68 million state solar fund in around half the amount of time it was allotted for, the Deval Patrick Administration is in the process of assembling a new program that officials hope will match the generosity of its predecessor, Commonwealth Solar.
Following closely on the heels of Evergreen’s decision to outsource to China, a quartet of legislators representing three different states and both sides of the political spectrum introduced earlier this week a bill intended to bolster solar manufacturing jobs in the United States. A bipartisan piece of legislation supported by the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Solar Manufacturing Jobs Creation Act aims to provide a tax credit, which is intended to encourage more American solar companies to produce solar equipment stateside.
At this point in time, Americans seem eager to embrace solar energy as part of a lower-carbon--and more energy-independent--future. Solar incentive programs across the country are performing well (in some cases, too well for their own good), and as the cost of the technology begins to drop a little, solar is a better option than ever. But we have enormous amounts of work to do if we want to be true leaders in the solar industry: we manufacture some solar components on American soil, but much of the industry still relies on foreign-made parts.