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Rob Sargent,
Environment New York

Solar on the Rise in New York, But Failing to Keep Pace with Neighboring States

Solar Capacity in Smaller States Like New Jersey and Massachusetts is Much Greater
For Immediate Release

Environment New York Research & Policy Center released Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States, a new report highlighting a solar energy boom across the country. The report outlines the twelve states that have made a considerable contribution to the nation’s rise in solar power. New York however, missed the cut and ranks 17th in the nation for per capita solar installations. This report comes as the New York State Legislature failed to reach an agreement on Governor Cuomo's proposal to grow the New York Sun Initiative by $150 million annually for ten years, which would have paved the way for New York to become a leader in solar power.

Last year, solar capacity in New York grew by almost 35% bringing it to a total of 175 Megawatts. But New York still trails behind leading solar states such as New Jersey which has installed more than 971 Megawatts of solar capacity.

“The sky’s the limit on solar energy,” said Eric Whalen, field organizer with Environment New York. “The progress of other states should give us the confidence that we can do much more. Our message today is clear: If you want your state to be a leader in pollution-free solar energy, set big goals and get good policies on the books.”

Unfortunately, New York is failing to adopt the policies required to keep up with other states in building solar power. In his 2013 'State of the State' address, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a dramatic expansion of the NY Sun Initiative, New York's solar power program. His proposal of providing more than $150 million to solar projects each year for the next decade would spur the installation of 2,200 Megawatts of solar power. By adopting solar energy on a such broad scale, New York would have continued to meet its energy needs while reducing pollution, including:

  • Offsetting 1.5 million tons of climate-altering CO2 emissions;
  • Offsetting 51.6 tons of toxic Mercury;
  • Generate over $2 billion in local economic development;
  • Create an average of 1,700 jobs annually through 2022.

During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers in Albany failed to reach an agreement to enact this policy. As New York falls farther behind surrounding states in building clean energy, clearly more is needed.

Solar is on the rise across the country. America has more than three times as much solar photovoltaic capacity as it did in 2010, and more than 10 times as much as it did in 2007. The price of solar panels fell by 26 percent in 2012. Environment New York attributed the solar boom to the leadership of state officials, especially those in states profiled in the report.

“More and more, homes and businesses are turning to solar as a pollution-free energy source with no fuel costs,” said Whalen. “With the increasing threat of global warming fueled extreme weather events, New York must become a leading solar state.”

The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.

The twelve leading solar states profiled in the report include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont. While these 12 states account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 85 percent of the nation’s installed solar energy.

The report highlights the strong policies adopted by the top solar states that encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar.” Most notably:

  • 11 of the 12 have strong net metering policies, which allow customers to offset their electric bills with on-site solar and receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid.
  • 11 of the 12 states have renewable electricity standards, requiring utilities to provide a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources; and nine of them have solar carve outs, which set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean onsite power.
  • 10 of the 12 have strong statewide interconnection policies. Interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
  • The majority of the top solar states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

“There is no reason why we cannot follow the path established by the top solar states to create vigorous markets for solar energy here in New York. We will reap the benefits in cleaner air and reductions of global warming pollution from fossil fuel use,” stated Whalen.

“Right now only a small fraction of our energy comes from solar,” said Whalen “By setting a bold goal of getting 10 percent of our energy from the sun by 2030 and adopting strong policies to back up that goal, New York can follow in the footsteps of the top solar states, or even become a leader and start paving the way for the rest of the country. In order to achieve this goal, we need the commitment from our state legislature to enable policies that will grow solar development in New York.

Whalen concluded: “Now is the time for Governor Cuomo to continue to demonstrate his leadership in promoting and installing clean solar energy in New York, and it's time for our State Legislature to follow his lead. Our state has immense promise for producing solar energy, and this potential has only just begun to be tapped. Currently, New Jersey is producing more than five times more solar energy than New York. New York can and must do better.”