Where is solar soaring, and which U.S. states could stand to kick renewables into high gear?
By Steve Wright
Although its cost has come down considerably since its mid-20th century introduction, solar power remains prohibitively expensive for most homeowners and business owners. Utility companies that operate in sunny regions are steadily building massive "solar farms," but rank-and-file folks still have a hard time justifying the costs of rooftop solar panels. Fortunately, many states offer powerful solar power incentives that make the technology affordable and economical for regular homeowners. Without further ado, here is a list of the best and worst states for solar power.
The Best States for Solar Power
Several U.S. states offer a smorgasbord of solar power incentives that significantly reduce installation and maintenance costs for rooftop panels. In some cases, enterprising homeowners may actually earn regular income from their at-home solar arrays. At the moment, the best states for solar power include New Mexico, Colorado, California and several Northeastern jurisdictions.
New Mexico: Not Content with Its Blessing
New Mexico is blessed with near-constant sunshine, but it isn't content to rest on its laurels. By 2020, its "Renewable Portfolio Standard" will require a full 20 percent of the state's total power output to come from renewable sources. Homeowners can earn up to $9,000 in tax credits towards the purchase and setup of solar panels.
Colorado: High Cash Flow in the High Plains
Colorado is another sunny, dry state that's not content with its natural bounty. Its subsidy model is a bit less centralized than New Mexico's: The individual utility companies that operate in this bastion of rugged individualism offer per-kilowatt subsidies to homeowners who set up solar panel arrays. For instance, Holy Cross Energy and Poudre Valley REA offer rebates of up to $1.50 per kilowatt-hour for solar-endowed homeowners. Such subsidies pay for upfront installation costs on an ongoing basis.
California: No Surprises Here
While California's weather is a bit more variable than New Mexico's or Colorado's, it's the third "sunny" state on this list. It's also recognized for the groundbreaking anti-pollution measures it enacted in the 1960s and ‘70s. These measures live on today in the form of a $3.3 billion subsidy for California's booming solar panel manufacturing industry. Meanwhile, the New Solar Homes Partnership offers individual homeowners incentives of $10,000 or more to construct efficient homes with built-in solar power arrays.
The Northeast: Small States, Big Incentives
The small states of the Northeast are barely visible on national maps, but some of them are leaders in the drive to increase solar power usage. In light of the region's moist, often cloudy climate, this is a truly remarkable achievement.
Massachusetts is making direct payments to school districts and municipalities that install photo-voltaic arrays on new or existing structures under their control. These are projected to top $70 million per year for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Connecticut is on target to meet its ambitious goal of producing 27 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. It's accomplishing this feat by offering direct payments to homeowners who install solar power or retrofit their homes. Finally, tiny New Jersey's total solar capacity is second only to California's. The state has aggressively courted solar power companies and promises to offset the cost of homeowners' solar water heater installations through its WARMAdvantage program.
The Worst States for Solar Power
Unfortunately, there's a yin for every yang. The following three states are clearly lagging in the drive to adopt solar power in a sustainable fashion.
Missouri: Wasting an Opportunity
Like many Midwestern states, Missouri has a wealth of renewable energy resources. While it's not known as one of the nation's sunniest states, its northwestern corner receives more sunshine than almost any area to the east. Unfortunately, Missouri offers few if any subsidies for regular homeowners who wish to install solar panels on their rooftops or in their yards. While individual cities like Saint Louis may offer some subsidies, these tend to be scatter-shot and are often scaled back or eliminated by stingy lawmakers. As a result, Missouri continues to use coal for more than 80 percent of its power needs.
Mississippi: Depression-Era Policies
Once upon a time, Mississippi was a renewable energy leader. During the Great Depression, the Tennessee Valley Authority constructed a number of massive hydroelectric dams around the Southeast. For a long time, these dams provided much of the power that Mississippi's homeowners and business owners used. Unfortunately, the state uses more coal and oil every year. Aside from "legacy" contracts with existing TVA customers, Mississippi offers no significant incentives for families and business owners who want to use solar power or other forms of renewable energy. Accordingly, it's regarded as one of the most expensive places to set up a solar power operation.
Oklahoma: Volunteering for Disaster
While Oklahoma purports to support solar power and other types of renewable energy generation, it offers only a minuscule subsidy for these purposes. Worse, its laudable goal to generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 is unenforceable: The state has refused to penalize businesses that don't comply and forces homeowners to pay upfront for solar panels. As such, it's highly unlikely that Oklahoma will meet this target. Even if it comes close, it's much more likely that big wind energy businesses will be the driving force.
Final Thoughts: Place Matters
As a large, politically diverse nation, the United States has not been able to achieve widespread solar power adoption on a national basis. In this respect, the country lags behind European counterparts like Germany and Belgium. However, individual U.S. jurisdictions have had tremendous amounts of success in subsidizing the cost of solar power installation for homeowners and business owners. States that offer a wide range of subsidies and credits are sure to become even more attractive to solar-powered businesses in the years to come.
About the Author:
Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel Buildings. They manufacture a diverse line of metal buildings including steel warehouses, manufacturing buildings and aircraft hangars. Whirlwind Steel Buildings, Inc. is a LEED certified company that manufactures pre-engineered steel buildings and metal building components. They provide comprehensive building solutions with services ranging from design calculations to building erection. They also produce eco-friendly solar rack systems that reduce dependence on natural resources and mitigate environmental impact.