The Southeastern states are known to be sunny, but due to many factors, including lack of solar plans and policies, they lag behind the solar development of the Northeast. Solar communications and policy manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) Alissa Jean Schafer, spoke on this “Wild West” part of the solar market at Intersolar NA 2016. Here are a few facts that summarize the information she shared in her presentation.
1. Policies and planning are important. North Carolina is the only Southeastern state with an RPS. Schafer calls it the “star of the Southeast,” because even though Florida gets more sun, North Carolina ranks third in installed solar capacity. This demonstrates how important deliberate action and the state regulatory environment are to solar.
2. Customers who are passionate about solar and frustrated with the regulatory environment in the Southeast are taking things into their own hands. Many are looking into storage as a solution, and storage is expected to increasingly make solar a viable option in markets where utility regulations aren’t so supportive of solar. Duke and Southern Company are starting to accept or become curious about solar storage, but so far just in smaller projects.
3. Solar policies vary from state to state in the Southeast, and in some places even from county to county.
4. Schafer remembers a representative from NREL saying modernizing the grid is like a small tugboat trying to pull an ocean liner. There’s tons of new technology, but it’s important that while staying optimistic about the future of solar, we also remain realistic about the large task ahead of us.
5. SACE is involved in tax abatement and other programs in an effort to create a more open Southeastern solar market.
6. It’s not just about low electricity rates. The Southeast does have low rates, but that doesn’t mean solar isn’t an economic option. North Carolina has one of th lowest electricity rates in the Southeast and yet has the most solar.
7. Corporations have a lot influence. They are doing their own solar planning, forcing utilities to pay attention. They will help drive solar in the Southeast.
9. It’s not an all or nothing when it comes to fixed charges from utilities. Schafer urges striving for a compromise between utilities and the solar industry. She discourages “us vs. them” scenario.