As the U.S. celebrates President’s Day, Obama is likely gearing up to increase the amount of renewables in the U.S. This comes at the same time that third-party ownership models are taking the lead in residential solar in an increasing number of states. Likewise efforts to make permitting easier in states like Pennsylvania are also making it easier for people there to go solar. Meanwhile in the largest state for solar, California, there’s some pushback from environmentalists who are challenging the DOI’s Solar Energy Zones and others that are concerned that PV farms are taking farmland out of production. The news show the increased interest in solar be it good or bad.
Last week Obama made his first State of the Union address since reelection, during which he reaffirmed his commitment to clean energy like solar and wind, and renewed his call to manufacture more renewable energy. During the speech Obama also took the important step of tying fighting climate change to using more clean energy. It’s a step that’s just latest in the President that’s done the most to promote clean energy in the past 30 years.
Getting more solar and renewable energy in place requires making it easier for more people to go solar at home. What’s increasing the easiest way to do that is through residential solar third-party ownership models, which defray the up-front costs of solar through long-term contracts. They’re quickly becoming the method of choice in an increasing number of states. In California, where they first took off, they now represent nearly three-quarters of the market. And in states where TPO models are offered, they now represent half of all new residential installations.
As important to promoting more solar is making sure it’s easy to permit solar. As such, PennFuture has worked with 24 communities in western Pennsylvania to streamline permitting and reduce soft costs for solar installations through a Department of Energy SunShot Initiative award in 2012. Already the participants have made it easier in their communities to go solar. Now the group is applying for a second round of financing to bring the methodologies to more communities in Pennsylvania.
Residential solar alone won’t fix everything. No matter how much people want it to. As such, large solar power projects are being planned and developed in places like the Southwest. But despite being sited on private or federally managed land, there are still issues with solar. For instance, the American Farmland Trust recently raised concerns that solar projects are taking productive California farmland out of production to build utility-scale solar installations. The organization is concerned about the impact of solar on the state’s fertile lands and how much land it could take out of production. It’s advocating for more legislation to better control the issue.
Likewise, federally managed desert and previously disturbed lands in California and the southwest identified as ideal for solar projects and considered Solar Energy Zones, have come under fire from local conservation organizations. Last week, Western Lands Project, Desert Protective Council and Western Watersheds filed a suit against the Bureau of Land Management for the proposed Solar Energy Zones, contending that DOI failed to consider alternatives focussed on developing solar on rooftops, lots and degraded lands. However, national conservation groups, including the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Foundation have signed off on the Solar Energy Zones, showing that there is some disagreement even within the conservation community as to the importance of clean energy.
Once the exclusive province of the U.S. southwest, giant PV projects are starting to take hold in the U.S. southeast as well. Most recently Strata Solar said it plans to develop a 100 MW PV farm in Warsaw, N.C. If realized, it will be among the largest PV plants in the U.S.