Solar contractors across nine Northeastern states added about 800 MW of small-scale installations in 2019, with New Jersey and New York making up about three-fifths of the total installed capacity. Contractors generally refer to these small scale-installations or rooftop solar panels as installations smaller than one megawatt. In 2020, The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) hopes to see New Jersey and New York continuing to be trailblazers, renewing their current solar initiative plan and expanding on their current one, respectively.
In the past 12 months, we saw Massachusetts lead in cumulative rooftop installations per capita, with Vermont and New Jersey trailing closely behind in second and third. Rhode Island took the lead in rooftop solar installation additions per capita in 2019 by a two-to-one margin. Maine and Pennsylvania were the only two states in 2019 that did not exceed the U.S. national average of 69 watts of rooftop solar per capita, with New York and New Hampshire needing to establish a hefty amount of rooftop solar installations this year to keep that honor.
State Policy Goals
Regardless of the size of solar installation, the technology used, or where it’s located, local, state and federal policies have a major impact on the success of distributed solar initiatives. SEIA helps support these initiatives statewide by being engaged with policymakers in Washington, D.C. Several groups in the Northeast shared their policy goals and plans for 2020, with all of them hoping to continue the forward momentum into the future.
New Jersey’s current plan is set to expire, so looking ahead, SEIA is looking for a replacement program to install at least another 3 GW of distributed solar, short-term. Vote Solar, whose mission is to make solar a more mainstream energy resource, is pressing for $125 million per year in state funding; which will provide 250,000 lower income families the opportunity to go solar by 2030 with 400 megawatts of solar storage. Pari Kasotia, Vote Solar’s Mid-Atlantic Director says, “By focusing on low-income families, we are ensuring that on-bill savings, which are more difficult for low-income families to access, are available to everyone.”
SEIA is pushing for state funding for New York’s agency, NYSERDA. This petition requests $573 million to help meet a state goal of 6 GW of distributed solar capacity by 2025. Vote Solar’s goal in New York is to serve 250,000 low income families with solar so everyone in the community can participate in the state initiative for cleaner energy.
Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) is a sustainable solar initiative program that promotes cost-effective solar development in Massachusetts. Vote Solar’s goal in Massachusetts is to simplify the program so that low-income families will have the chance to go solar without needing to sign a contract. SEIA is more focused on the solar project sites of the SMART program. David Gahl, SEIA’s Senior Director of Northeast state affairs states, “The program applies an incentive subtractor for certain distributed solar projects built on green fields and previously undisturbed property. This is essentially a penalty that’s assessed on a cent per kilowatt-hour basis.” SEIA would like to see an approach that more clearly designates the type of parcel where the solar installations would be applied.
Solar Potential for the Future
The solar potential across the U.S. is greater than it may seem, especially in the Northeast. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) created a solar potential map of the U.S., where at first glance, the map is very misleading. It highlights the Southwestern desert as a hotspot for solar potential, then, as you move across the U.S., it appears the potential dramatically drops off, which isn’t true. In fact, there’s solar potential everywhere across the continental United States.
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