Last week saw the Holiday season kick off with Thanksgiving followed by the retail-apolooza that is the Black Friday weekend, extending into Cyber Monday. Early reports show that overall spending over the period was only up about 2.3 percent between early online sales, Thanksgiving Day sales, and Black Friday. That’s far less than the growth that the solar industry has seen over the past year - and likely far less growth than the industry will see in 2014.
Case in point, a new report from SNL Financial reaffirms what earlier reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) found—October was a big month for solar. The majority of all new energy capacity coming online in the U.S. in October was solar—and a full 99 percent of all energy generation that came online in the month was solar. The SNL report, however, came to a far different conclusion than the FERC. FERC observed that 699 megawatts of new electric generation came online in October, with 504 megawatts—nearly 75 percent, coming from solar. The SNL report found that 530 megawatts of solar came online, which it said was all new energy generation in the month.
It looks like the strong solar trend will continue. A new report from NPD Solarbuzz found that the U.S. now has a 43 gigawatt solar power project pipeline. The report also found that solar developers are already planning for the elimination of the Investment Tax Credit in 2017. As such, they’re rushing to get projects underway now, moving quickly from planning stages to construction. This means over the next few years, the U.S. should see double-digit growth. After all, only about 4.3 gigawatts of new solar are slated to come online in 2013.
While such positive news is pouring in, solar is being attacked on the home front. Utilities continue to push back against policies that support rooftop solar, like net-metering. For example, in Vermont, the solar industry is pushing Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) to increase support for net-metering. Three of the state’s smaller utilities are now getting 4 percent of their electricity from distributed resources like rooftop solar, which meets the baseline requirement. As such, they’ve now stopped accepting new solar systems into their grids.
In Colorado, there’s also a significant movement underway to protect net-metering. The state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, is attempting to further reduce its net-metering program while the state’s solar industry, businesses and residents want to see more of it. Last week, they presented a petition to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) with more than 11,000 signatures and support from over 280 businesses, municipalities and organizations, calling for Colorado to implement a Million Solar Roofs campaign in the state.
Another powerful tool to support solar projects on homes may be making a comeback—at least in California. PACE financing, otherwise know as property assessed clean energy financing, allows home and business owners to finance solar through an assessment on their property tax, which they repay annually through property taxes. The appeal is that PACE financing allows access to low-cost capital. The Governor of the state has created a $10 million fund to serve as a loan guarantee program to support PACE programs in municipalities across the state, since the programs are supported at the municipal level, not the state level. Cities like San Francisco are designing programs based on this new fund.