These Anti-Solar Policies Are Threatening U.S. Clean Energy Goals
Many gigawatts worth of solar power have been installed in the U.S. through all sorts of installations, from rooftop residential arrays to utility-scale farms. According to the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA), a national trade group, the development of new solar energy “has experienced an average annual growth rate of 33%.”
In 2021 alone, the association says, new solar installations amounted to 23.6 GW, roughly 20% higher than the year prior. And the U.S. is one of only five countries with large economies that are powered by at least 10% solar or wind resources.
But that doesn’t mean that the industry’s trajectory is completely unimpeded by policies or pushback in various states that may dampen further expansion. Here are some policies that in recent months have threatened to hold up or halt the solar sector’s rise.
1. Florida Legislation May Reduce Net Metering Payouts
SEIA estimates that Florida is on track to install roughly 9.5 GW of solar over the next five years. And assessments made by Google’s Project Sunroof show that the Sunshine State lives up to its nickname with 92% of buildings considered to have “solar-viable” roofs. At the end of 2020, the state utility regulator found that Florida had just over 90,000 customers participating in solar net metering, or selling any excess generated power back to the grid.
But a piece of legislation that recently passed both chambers of the state’s legislature would make it more expensive for homeowners to install solar by cutting the payments that utilities make to net metering ratepayers, according to Axios Tampa Bay. Solar installation companies and clean energy advocates alike are loudly opposing the payment reductions, pointing to potential job losses and deceleration of new solar growth. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to sign or veto the bill, but recent reporting shows most Floridians don’t want it to take effect.
2. Virginia Utility Wants High Minimum Charge for Shared Solar Subscribers
In mid-February, the Virginia utility commission received a report from a regulatory staff member suggesting that community solar subscribers pay a roughly $55 monthly minimum payment to help fund energy infrastructure upgrades and repairs. That proposed minimum charge was lower than the amount that investor-owned utility Dominion Energy had proposed of $74.28, wrote the Virginia Mercury.
Solar advocates and developers in Virginia say such a high minimum charge would thwart the new solar capacity growth that had been expected with opening up the state to community solar projects. According to PV Magazine, Virginia only began accepting applications for shared solar programs in late 2021. Energy News Network noted that observers don’t know when Virginia’s utility commission will decide to adopt or pass on their staffer’s recommendations.
3. In Numerous Small Towns, Solar Development Moratoriums Appear
While solar developers have their eyes on many municipalities across the U.S. for potential projects, few if any localities already have ordinances or local policies dictating where and under what conditions such arrays can be constructed. In response, numerous counties, towns or other types of communities have temporarily stopped accepting new construction or development applications for new solar farms.
The Conway Daily Sun reports, for example, that the town of Lovell, Maine, turned out in droves to overwhelmingly approve a 180-day utility-scale solar project moratorium so that officials could codify relevant zoning regulations.
Some of this pushback is not just because of a lack of local-level regulation but because new solar facilities are being proposed in locations that frustrate residents, like prime farmland or in sight of scenic views, according to NBC News.
Bridget is a freelance reporter and newsletter writer based in the Washington, D.C., area. She primarily writes about energy, conservation and the environment. Originally from Philadelphia, she graduated from Emerson College in 2016 with a degree in journalism and a minor in environmental studies. When she isn’t working on a story, she’s normally on a northern Maine lake or traveling abroad to practice speaking Spanish.