Environment America released a new report Tuesday ranking America’s top solar states and considering best practices for adopting their policies and growth strategies to grow the industry. The report, titled “Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States,” included Massachusetts and Vermont, demonstrating the region’s continued leadership in clean energy development. The so-called “Dazzling Dozen” states account for only 28% of U.S. population but 85% of the nation’s installed solar capacity, according to Environment America and data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. The report lays out the compelling story of growth and economic development with increased solar generation—America has increased its solar photovoltaic capacity tenfold since 2007 and now employs 119,500 people nationally within the industry. While the Dazzling Dozen have taken the lead in solar energy development, they also continue to shine—these 12 states were both the leaders in solar energy installed per capita and new solar energy capacity installed in 2012.
Within New England, solar energy offers one component of an increasingly diverse portfolio of clean energy sources. Northeast states such as Massachusetts and Vermont have pursued solar energy because of high electricity prices from utility grids and the local demand for increased clean energy sources. Massachusetts currently ranks 7th in cumulative installed solar capacity among states, while Vermont earned the 7th spot for solar photovoltaic energy installed per capita during 2012. Despite New England’s moderate solar potential, costs of installed solar systems fell 27% during 2012 on top of a 20% decline during 2010-2011, per the Environment America report. As Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin commented on the report,
Vermont is putting solar power to work and is leading the way to a clean energy future… We plan to keep Vermont at the forefront of this energy revolution.
New England had taken a lead with some of the strongest policy initiatives to encourage the development of solar and other clean energy sources. Environment America cited Vermont’s new bidding system for solar energy, built from its CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) contracting system, as a model market policy. Many states encourage solar carve-outs as a means of creating specific targets for solar’s share of the clean energy mix. Even though Vermont has not reserved this type of niche for solar, the state’s rebate programs encourage adoption and its feed-in tariffs encourage a fair rate of return on investments. The report’s conclusion emphasized the benefit of state collaboration to solar growth:
The Dazzling Dozen states did not come to be America’s solar energy leaders by accident. Their leadership is the result of strong public policies that eliminate barriers.
Massachusetts has provided a shining example of the report’s recommendation for integrating strong public policies at every level. The growth of local governance initiatives for solar financing, such as PACE, and ambitious state goals for clean energy growth and smart grid investment are driving Massachusetts’ push to reach 1,600 MW of installed solar capacity by 2020 (281 MW have been installed through July 1st). According to the report’s estimates, each state has the technical potential to generate more electricity from the sun than it consumes in the average year. Massachusetts has worked with utilities and the clean energy industry to maximize this potential, reducing the woes of energy loss and expensive investment occurring with long-range transmission growth.
The New England states are working to ensure that consumers realize the full benefits of pursuing clean energy development. Massachusetts and Vermont have taken a lead on realizing a solar energy future, but their policy and development models can help the region’s other states incorporate solar in their continued push to bring clean energy sources New Englanders continue to demand and adopt. As Rob Sargent of Environment Massachusetts said following the report’s release,
If you want your state to be a leader in pollution-free solar energy, follow Massachusetts’ lead and set ambitious but achievable goals and back them up with policies that work