Of the top ten states for solar, only New Mexico is what we would consider a traditionally "sunny" state. And most of the top ten is made up of northeastern states, which see plenty of wind, rain, snow, and clouds.
2015 State Solar Power Rankings
Ben Zientara | Solar Power Rocks
Why is there a need for this report?
Because there is so little clear nationwide policy to encourage residential solar, and state policy is so varied and complex. With this report, we sought to recognize states that have done the best job of promoting residential solar through legislative action and market mechanisms, and to give people interested in installing solar on their homes an idea of how good their state is at helping people like them.
Who are you trying to reach with this report?
We have two audiences for this report: state lawmakers and clean energy advocates who want to see what the best practices in residential solar policy are around the country, and homeowners who want to see whether their state has any good ways to aid their adoption of solar technology.
The goal of the site is to take the complex and often confusing information about going solar and make it clear and easy for homeowners to understand. State lawmakers and utility companies aren’t exactly the easiest entities to work with, and the stuff they write is filled with caveats and complicated wording.
We think it’s important that homeowners get a good idea of the options that are out there. People might be interested in solar to protect themselves from rising energy costs or save the planet, but they should have all the information to see how solar can be a sound investment, too.
How was the report put together? What criteria did you use?
The report followed naturally from our in-depth state pages. Each page explores every aspect of solar policy and incentives, beginning with a state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which sets levels of energy that must come from sustainable sources. From there, we delve into available rebates, tax credits, and property and sales tax exemptions. We also look at net metering and interconnection rules, which govern how a customer gets connected to the grid and what kind of payments they get from the utility.
To give people a good idea of how the whole process works, we provide an example of costs and benefits for a typical solar installation that shows each step of the financial path, from the initial outlay of cash to the bottom line after a year, and beyond. It shows the estimated payback time, profit over the life of the system, and the effects of carbon dioxide reductions from clean energy production.
Once we completed the research and writing for the state pages, we developed a grading system for the individual criteria. The report cards you see in the 2015 Solar Power Rankings were generated based on those grades. From there, we looked at the states as a whole, weighting the grades we gave them based on how important each criterion is overall. You can see the weighting on the report page, here. (http://www.solarpowerrocks.com/2015-solar-power-state-rankings/#methods)
Why does this report matter?
It matters because there is too little clear information out in the world about the many facets of solar energy, both costs and benefits. We think solar is awesome—it says as much right in our name—and we want other people to see that, too. In many states, with incentives and tax breaks, solar is a better investment than an index fund, sometimes far outperforming the S&P 500. People should know that!
Another good reason is because there are too many states out there that do next-to-nothing to promote solar energy, including many of the southern states, which see so much more sun than much of the country. There are huge missed opportunities here to spur economic growth and get all the benefits of solar, from reducing dependence on oil to saving the planet. And the more states who get in on the solar party, the more the cost goes down for everyone.
What trends did you see in the data?
We mentioned it a bit above, but so many states that get lots of sun do far too little about helping people make energy from that sun. Of the top ten states for solar, only New Mexico is what we would consider a traditionally “sunny” state. And most of the top ten is made up of northeastern states, which see plenty of wind, rain, snow, and clouds. But the data shows that they’ve been successful at promoting solar and meeting their goals for renewable energy production, sometimes years ahead of schedule.
Another trend we see is that the juiciest rebates have gone away. Early successes in states like California, Colorado, and Arizona mean that utilities no longer have to pay customers big bucks to meet their obligations under state RPS laws. We think this is great, but it also means that it might be time for those states to revisit their RPS goals and increase them. With so much momentum, why not keep pushing for the best? We hope the states will get aggressive enough that we’ll see the first state powered by 100% renewable energy within the next 20 years. We’re already seeing cities like Burlington, Vermont, and countries like Iceland and Paraguay at 100% renewables.
Which states are doing the best and which are behind?
Top 5: New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, and New Jersey (not a state with a northern border below the 40th parallel among them).
Bottom 5: West Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Idaho.
Overall, what mark do you give the country in its adaption to solar energy in the last year?
That’s a tough one. We graded on a curve, so the best states ended up with A-pluses. If we removed the curve, New York and Massachusetts come in around 88% of the total possible points in our scale, or a B+. Only 16 states were above 60%. If we’re generous and anything over 50% passes the test, 20 states made it.
There is a lot of work left to do. Germany, which gets about as much sun as Wisconsin, can produce over 70% of its electricity on a good day from renewable sources. According to the U.S. EIA, The US generated 13% of its energy from renewable sources last year (source: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=92&t=4). Even the most aggressive RPS laws demand 40% by between 2017 and 2025. It’s not enough.
Solar Power Rocks
Solar Power Rocks is committed to giving homeowners a clear picture of the policy, incentives, and investment returns on local solar panel installations. We also recognize the best states for solar and clearly illustrate how all state legislatures can encourage residential solar energy growth based on the best practices in the most successful states.
We are doing our best to change the perceptions of legislators, decision makers, homeowners, and business-owners alike to get more solar technology on roofs. Our activities include educating our readers about their local subsidies and solar related legislation, as well as connecting them to solar installers in their areas to make their dream of renewable energy a reality.
Ben is a writer and researcher for Solar Power Rocks. He has a B.S. in Scientific and Technical Communication from the University of Minnesota, and focuses on environmental science and sustainability.
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