Washington a top solar energy state? you might ask skeptically. After all, half the state does not see the sun for six months, and the other half has really, really cheap power. Neither would seem to bode well for a solar energy boom here.
Keep in mind that, up until 2011, Germany was using more solar than the rest of the world combined. Western Washington gets 15% more sunshine than Germany! What about that cheap power? Washington is completely dependent on hydropower from spring runoff, which is becoming less reliable as our weather is heating up. Washingtonians pay an average of $0.092/kWh for their power, which is catching up quickly to the national average of $0.126/kWh.
So, Washington State can actually benefit greatly from going solar. What would it actually take for Washington to break into the ranks of “top 10 solar states,” as reported by the Environment America Research & Policy Center? Could we join Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Colorado as one of the leading installers and producers of solar power?
Could Washington State Join the Top 10 Solar Energy States?
Let us put this into perspective. California, the #1 solar state, installed 3,266 megawatts (MW‘s) of solar energy in 2015. New Jersey, the #10 state, installed 181 MW in 2015. Washington installed 26 MW, ranking us #20 in the nation. That is less than 1% of California’s solar energy installations (though it puts us in the top half!).
So, where is the gap? Let us first look at what these states all have in common. They all have renewable energy requirements; nine have laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid; and nine allow customers to earn credit for excess electricity sent back to the grid through net metering.
Washington State remarkably has all three of these items as well:
- Washington’s renewable energy requirements (15% new renewables by 2020) became law in 2006 (Source: RCW 19.285 Energy Independence Act),
- We allow solar customers to connect to the power grid,
- We have a residential solar energy incentive program that pays homeowners simply to produce solar power.
Why Are We So Far Behind the Top Solar Energy States?
Washington State’s aging incentive program was designed for slow, temporary growth.
The solar energy incentives were purposely created for the residential market only. This why there are only a handful of large commercial, solar energy installations and no utility-scale installations in the state.
Leasing programs for solar are all but nonexistent in Washington.
We have an “ownership model” here, meaning incentives are only available for solar buyers who own the property. This disincentive precludes any chance of a leasing option for non-homeowners.
Washington’s renewable energy requirements are not ambitious enough.
Our southern neighbor Oregon will stop using electricity generated from coal by 2030 and go 50% renewable by 2040. This would represent a fairly ambitious goal for Washington State as well, considering the largest utility in the state gets a third of its power from coal.
Change the Solar Energy Incentive Program
If we want to get solar on the map for Washington State, we need to change the incentive program to:
- Encourage large-scale commercial and utility projects,
- Grow dramatically the number of smaller residential and commercial systems,
- Open up the solar market to leasing companies,
- Require public utilities to invest in solar energy through more ambitious renewable energy portfolio standards.
In the meantime, our aging incentive program is running out of time and money. Now is the time to solve this problem and ensure that our solar workforce grows rapidly to meet demand.
Artisan Electric is a passionate proponent of Puget Sound’s clean energy future and will be working on these issues. No one wants to see Washington State join tho top 10 list more than Artisan Electric! We hope The Evergreen State will fulfill its solar potential in the coming months and years, through education, political will and continued strong citizen engagement. Come join us to make Washington a top solar energy state!
Last Modified: January 12, 2017