By Dave Kozin, President of Solar Washington
Solar in Washington continues to grow at a rapid pace, despite cheap energy prices and the relative lack of sun west of the Cascades. The truth is that solar works in Washington state. Long summer days, cool weather, a statewide net-metering program and generous state production incentives have spurred a strong local solar industry. I believe 2013 marked a maturing solar market in Washington, with lots of work still left to do.
Washington has much to be proud of over the past 12 months. We are home to two PV module manufacturers, both of which saw increased production as a result of our “Made in Washington” production incentive program. Itek Energy has more than doubled its production capacity since 2012, increasing module efficiency by more than 8% and reducing prices by approximately 25%. Silicon Energy has continued its expansion in to other states while building its reputation as a highly-durable module with BIPV capabilities.
On the installation side, local contractors have been growing at an annual rate of about 25% to 30% across the board, including employee count, annual revenues, number of projects and installed generating capacity. This data comes from a newly formed trade association, Solar Installers of Washington (SIW), which launched in October when installers set aside their competitive impulses to work together and help shape the future of solar energy in Washington, particularly in regards to public policy and legislation.
Many non-profit organizations have recently become more involved in solar energy in Washington as well. Perhaps most notable is Northwest SEED, which has organized several “Solarize” campaigns in neighborhoods across the Puget Sound region.
The past 12 months have been interesting, to say the least, when it comes to solar policy in Washington. Earlier in the year, HB 1301 was introduced as a way to bolster and extend the state’s existing production-incentive program, which is set to expire in 2020 and may reach its cap in allowed payments before then. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Republican-controlled Senate after becoming too complicated and not earning enough Republican support. Representative Jeff Morris intends to pick up where things left off with 1301 when the new session begins in January and is being urged by industry professionals to keep the bill as simple as possible.
An unexpected win for the solar industry came when a sales-tax exemption was extended in a budget deal in the final minutes of the legislative session. “The Great Sales Tax Exemption Rush of 2013” had customers and installers scrambling to get systems installed and inspected before the June 30 deadline, only to find out on June 29 that it would be extended for another five years.
More recently, a proposal was adopted by the Washington State Building Code Council that amends the 2012 International Fire Code (IFC) and permits solar panels to cover more roof space than previously allowed. The proposal was submitted by a Solar PV Technical Advisory Group (TAG) made up of fire officials, solar professionals, building and electrical code officials, and a solar homeowner.
Finally, the state is considering how it might integrate third-party owned (TPO) and leased solar systems. The Washington Utility and Transportation Commission (UTC) is looking at new language that could allow TPO systems to receive net-metering benefits while avoiding utility regulations. And, after a round of heated public testimony, the Department of Revenue is considering new rules that would open up state production incentives to leased systems. The DOR is not expected to open the program to leased systems and is expected to make its final ruling before the New Year.