Solar panel installation (SolarCity)
Let’s start with the good news.
Solar energy is growing and more popular than ever.
The amount of solar energy installed in the United States has quadrupled since 2010, generating enough energy to power 1 in 20 American homes.
In 2016, the United States witnessed its millionth solar installation and the industry expects to hit 2 million solar installations in just the next two years.
All this growth in solar power brings tangible benefits to local communities across New York.
Environmentally, solar power reduces the need for harmful fossil fuels and cuts pollution that science shows causes climate change. Here in New York, we know we need to act now to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. We already see its manifestations in hotter summers, wildfires, and more frequent extreme weather events.
Economically, solar power can lower energy bills over time as an energy source with zero fuel costs. It also creates local jobs. In 2015, solar employed over 8,200 people in New York. At the end of 2015, solar employed more Americans than the oil and gas extraction industry.
Furthermore, solar power fosters civic engagement between decision-makers and energy stakeholders, from homeowners to school principals and small business owners, creating more invested parties in the future of clean energy across New York.
Because of these benefits, solar power is tremendously popular across the political spectrum. Recent polls show that majorities of Republicans and Democrats support the advancement of clean energy.
Now here’s the bad news.
As solar power has grown, it has been attacked by entrenched energy interests who see rooftop solar as an existential threat to their bottom line.
A new report by Environment New York Research & Policy Center, Blocking the Sun, documents 17 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy throughout the country.
Rather than value the full benefits of distributed solar energy, these utilities and their fossil fuel backers have attempted to cut credits to solar customers and charge them extra fees. In some states, they have even attempted to do away with renewable energy standards altogether.
The fact is we can’t maintain a status quo mostly filled with an energy portfolio of gas, coal, and nuclear power plants that threaten our environment and our health. We need to tap into solar and renewable energy sources on rooftops across New York and beyond.
Of the findings, the report documents how the Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque non-profits; the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has provided utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislatures and inspired anti-solar legislation in a group of states; utilities in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, California, and Illinois have undertaken extensive campaigns to revoke renewable energy policy or impose new charges on their solar customers.
In mid-2016, there were at least 84 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states that could impact the growth of solar energy, including limitations to net metering or new charges to make rooftop solar power less economically viable.
With all the advantages of solar energy, we can’t just turn our back on tapping the power of the sun. So far, New York leaders have stood up to those who have wanted to stop progress of rooftop solar. Let’s make sure they know how much support there is for solar power and continue to push back against attempts to stunt the growth of renewable energy.
Heather Leibowitz, Esq. is the Director of Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization. On Twitter @EnvNY.