ORIGINAL REPORTING: Solar Policy Takes On The Hard Questions
As US solar expands, states increasingly tackle compensation and community project complexities; Years of debate by "nerds in beige rooms" has led to today's booming solar market, but solar policy is becoming even more complicated.
Herman K. Trabish, March 14, 2019 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Policy debates continue to proliferate and increase in complexity.
U.S. installed solar capacity grew by about a third from 2015 through 2018, but solar policy actions grew by over 50%, according to two recent reports. In particular, there has been increased policy action in two critical areas: developing more equitable solar compensation and establishing growing community solar programs. As the solar market continues to grow — estimated to reach 4.3 GW of new utility-scale solar capacity and 3.9 GW of new distributed solar capacity by the end of 2019 — its perceived threat to the utility business model is producing new debates about how to make solar work better for all power sector stakeholders.
"The utility industry continues to react to the low cost and popularity of solar and storage devices with efforts across many jurisdictions to question the benefits," former Maine utility commissioner David Littell, now a principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project, told Utility Dive. The changes that come with solar and storage are intimidating for utility executives and engineers because they are complicated, destabilize revenue and threaten system reliability, he added. "But they need to realize the world is more complicated."
"Wanting to manage cost is not the same as opposing solar," National Grid Director of Energy and Environmental Policy Tim Roughan told Utility Dive. "Solar should be priced so we can afford to do lots of it for a long time instead of increasing bills so much that no more solar gets built. But these policy debates are not leading to managing the cost or to a new tariff that works." Some see policy debates as the key to progress. "Every energy sector market is the result of policy debates by nerds in beige rooms who created rules to open up competition," Western Resources Advocates (WRA) Clean Energy Program Deputy Director Erin Overturf told Utility Dive. "It allowed us to build a solar market that drove prices down. And now we are working on new, more complicated policies to expand that market's impact."
State-level distributed solar policy actions grew from approximately 175 in 2015 to 264 in 2018, according to the annual solar policy review released in January by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC). Policy actions on community solar, compensation debates and actions on controversial fixed, demand and solar-only charges all remain at the forefront of solar policy debates, according to the report. With nearly every state now engaged in solar policy, the Center expects "even more activity in 2019," NCCETC Senior Policy Research Manager and report lead author Autumn Proudlove told Utility Dive… click here for more
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