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Solar Policy and the 2016 Legislative Session across the States

March 17, 2016 by Jeffrey J. Cook

With the 2016 legislative session well underway, it is valuable to take stock of the legislation addressing solar energy production across various states. The Center for the New Energy Economy’s Advanced Energy Legislation Tracker (AEL Tracker) follows state legislation across ten policy categories. As of February 8th, there were 957 bills in the AEL Tracker unique to the 2016 legislative session. Of those 957, 133 bills, or 14%, directly address solar energy.[1]

An illustration of a map with various states colored green.

These solar energy bills are distributed across 23 states (represented in green in the figure to the right). Hawaii has introduced 22 solar-related bills—the highest in the nation—while legislators in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, and South Carolina have introduced one solar-related bill within each state.

There is a great deal of variation within the proposed legislation (see the figure below). First, nearly a quarter of all of the legislation deals with tax incentives, typically tax credits for solar installations such as HB 195 in Florida. The second most frequently proposed solar-related legislation addresses state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) programs. Much of this legislation would increase RPS requirements in general (see A 2203 in New Jersey) or require generation from specific technologies, most commonly solar (see SF 2034 in Iowa). The siting and permitting category rounds out the top three categories and a majority of these bills either address siting solar on open space and agricultural lands, such as Hawaii SB 2044, or siting solar in planned communities (see Missouri SB 631).

An illustration of a bar graph.

Of the remaining policy categories, two are highlighted that have received significant attention recently: community solar and third-party financing.

Community solar is an emerging deployment model that has been rapidly expanding across the country—but largely only in those states that have a community solar policy in place.[2] Of the 11 bills proposed across fives states addressing this topic, bills in Iowa (SF 2031), Missouri (SB 630, HB 2301, HB 1548), and Nebraska (LB 736) are of particular interest because these states do not currently have statewide community solar policies.

Third-party financing is more widespread than community solar programs but the legality of this financing structure remains uncertain across nearly half the states. Given that more than 70% of existing solar systems are third-party owned, this uncertainty can influence market expansion. Of the five bills that address third-party financing, three bills in Florida (SB 1328, HB 687) and Virginia (SB 148) would allow or otherwise create third-party financing options in these states.
Though net-metering policy has received some of the most attention nationally, the policy debate surrounding solar at the state level is far more dynamic. Thus, a more comprehensive assessment of the impact of state policy on the solar market requires tracking this broader legislation throughout the remainder of the 2016 legislative session.

[1]Many bills would have some impacts on the solar market but, for the purposes of this discussion, only those bills that specifically reference, regulate, and/or incentivize solar energy production are included.

[2]See: https://nccleantech.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/50sosQ4-FINAL.pdf and https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy15osti/63892.pdf.

Tags: Policy