New York, NY– With roughly 32 solar panels for every person and enough solar capacity to power over 100,000 homes, as of the end of last year, New York has more cumulative solar energy capacity than all but 6 other states nationwide.
Environment New York Research & Policy Center’s new study, Lighting the Way 4: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2015, shows the states that ranked the highest for solar per capita were those with policies that allow increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar,” not necessarily the ones with the most sunshine.
New York’s 638 megawatts of solar capacity accounts for 8,250 solar jobs; however, in the context of the state’s over 19 million residents and history of sustainability leadership, there is still ample room for solar growth. California, the study’s top state for solar capacity per capita, has twice the population of New York, yet the Golden State has 20 times our solar capacity—13,243 megawatts. This is a significant reason why New York cannot succumb to utility attempts to stifle solar growth.
“There’s a ton of support for solar energy in New York,” says Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York, “but as its popularity rises, so does anxiety among utilities.”
The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have long held pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.
But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model.
Elsewhere last year, utilities convinced officials in Hawaii and Nevada to eliminate their net metering programs. And early this year solar proponents narrowly defeated a high-profile lobbying attempt by California’s largest and most powerful utility companies to do away with that state’s net metering program.
Anti-solar salvos like these come as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of the renewable energy resource nationwide. In February solar cleared the milestone of 1 million installations across the country. Here in New York we saw this amazing growth. New York, along with California, North Carolina, Nevada, and Massachusetts, was among the top five states for new solar energy capacity in 2015.
Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in the 10 leading-edge states, that make up 88 percent of the nation’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. All have renewable energy requirements, for example, and nine have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid.
Here in New York, we also have a program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI), which limits global warming pollution from power plants and accelerates our transition to clean energy sources, like solar power. New York is currently considering stronger goals for reducing pollution out to 2030 under this program. Pro-solar policies can help make bigger cuts in pollution possible.
But Environment New York warned that utilities weren’t letting up on their quest to erode such policies.
“Solar power can play a major role in the biggest step our country has ever taken to address climate change while also creating local jobs,” said Leibowitz. “That’s why our local elected officials should continue to lead when it comes with to clean energy.”