The following is a contributed article by Mike Kruger, President & CEO of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association.
In this time of unprecedented challenge, there are unprecedented opportunities in the clean energy sector.
Technology advances and market forces have made large-scale change possible and momentum has been growing quickly in the last couple of years. However, as the world fights to stabilize the health and safety of its citizens, much like most other industries, energy companies are having to adapt to a new reality while still providing the reliable energy resources and products we depend on.
As we face a likely recession and an economic reset in many places across the country, the clean energy industry has the potential to be a bright spot in what will continue to be challenging times.
After we secure the health and safety of our fellow citizens, we must focus on “clean energy to counter the coronavirus crisis,” on the recommendation of Fatih Birol, Executive Director at the International Energy Agency. Doing so will provide immediate jobs for those displaced and cleaner air and cleaner water for all, while making a significant investment in reducing the adverse impacts of climate change.
The federal government has passed the CARES Act and the Senate has adjourned until April 20. Now the action is moving to the states.
However, 17 states either completed their legislative sessions or were not convened this year. An additional 23 states have adjourned, suspended or postponed their legislatures due to COVID-19 impacts.
In a normal year, the easiest way to jumpstart clean energy deployment would be to enact a sales or property tax holiday, or implement targeted tax incentives similar to the federal Opportunity Zones. State legislatures that will reconvene and finish their regularly scheduled work or reconvene in a special session will return with significant budget challenges with a reduction in sales and income tax.
Now is an opportunity to develop a playbook that can jumpstart clean energy across states with little or no cost to taxpayers.
Job training and placement: Clean energy jobs were growing at faster than the national average prior to the COVID recession, and there is no reason customer demand, which has weakened recently, shouldn't bounce back quickly after this disruption.
There are jobs ready to be filled and states can ensure existing programs are preparing graduates for jobs within these skilled trades, and help those displaced from the service sector find customer service roles in the clean energy economy. Established online training courses are easily accessible during shelter at home orders so workers return to the workforce with new skills.
The industry can partner with the state and other organizations to diversify its workforce, addressing an issue that is present today. Now, more than ever, states can partner with state-level trade associations to put on job fairs or create online skill matching programs to make connections between job-seekers and companies with opportunities.
Rooftop solar for homes and businesses: After this extended disruption, resilience of all kinds, including energy, will be top of mind for many Americans.
States can ensure that home and business owners can deploy their own money to improve their resilience by offering full retail net metering for the solar produced. Legislators can protect homeowners by forbidding separate rates for solar customers. Authorizing C-PACE and R-PACE would allow home and business owners to leverage their assets to deploy more clean energy generation.
Local jurisdictions should be encouraged to streamline their permitting and inspection process with small grants from the state allocated to update IT systems and software. States should require that state facilities, including hospitals and schools, be powered by clean energy, with a significant percentage coming from on-site generation and the remainder from their local utility.
That mandate will ensure low-cost energy for the state’s budget, but also signals to big developers and small installers that there will be immediate customer demand for their product.
Community Solar: According to a recent NREL study, over 40% of the roofs in America are not suitable for solar panels. Therefore, to ensure all customers can access clean energy, states without community solar programs can enact enabling legislation.
These programs need to be well constructed to give subscribers a clear and stable bill credit, with enough generation capacity allocated to ensure customer demand can be met. Community solar is one of the best ways to offer a just transition to renewables by making sure clean energy is accessible to all.
Energy Storage: America cannot get to a clean energy future without widespread deployment of energy storage. States can ensure that the law is clear that energy storage coupled with clean energy generation is eligible for state and utility incentives. Legislators can also direct their public utility commission to design rates and incentives to encourage energy storage deployment, which benefits both the customer and the utility.
Additional requirements that utilities evaluate energy storage as an alternative for a distribution or transmission upgrade can also create markets for those batteries.
Large-scale and transmission development: To reach 100% clean energy, gigawatts and gigawatts of large-scale clean energy generation will need to be built. States can incentivize that construction by creating or increasing their Renewable Energy Standard.
For states with utilities that have committed to a clean energy future, turning those commitments into statute would provide a clear signal to developers that they should invest in the state now.
States should make siting and construction of clean energy projects and associated transmission lines as easy as possible. They can do this by requiring state and local agencies to have parallel timelines and require similar environmental studies.
States should also create clean energy commodity checkoff programs, similar to those within agriculture, for large-scale installations. The ability of the clean energy industry to self-tax and use that money to educate landowners, local governments and others about the benefits and opportunities of clean energy would create a larger and more competitive market for energy development.
If states move quickly to enact this playbook, they will have the opportunity to accelerate their long-term clean energy transition, while also stimulating the economy in the short term.