Let’s start with the good news.
Solar energy is growing, renewable and more popular than ever.
The amount of solar energy installed in the U.S. has quadrupled since 2010, generating enough energy to power 1 in 20 American homes.
In 2016, the United States witnessed its 1 millionth solar installation and the industry expects to hit 2 million solar installs in just the next two years.
All of this growth in solar power brings tangible benefits to local communities in Virginia.
Environmentally, solar power reduces the need for harmful fossil fuels and cuts pollution that science shows us causes climate change. Here in Virginia, we know we need to act now to reduce the worst impacts of climate change, as we already see its effects in flooding from sea level rise and more extreme and frequent tropical storms, as well as in our poor air quality and high asthma rates.
Economically, solar can lower energy bills over time as an energy source with zero fuel costs and also creates local jobs; in 2015, solar employed 1,963 in Virginia. At the end of 2015, solar employed more Americans than the oil and gas extraction industry.
Civically, solar power fosters 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 in Virginia.
All of these benefits mean that solar power is tremendously popular, even 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 incumbent energy interests who especially see rooftop solar as an existential threat to their bottom line.
A new report by Environment Virginia 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 in Virginia and 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 all across Virginia 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 including Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
During the 2015 General Assembly session, the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates pushed legislation nearly identical to the Reliable and Safe Power (RASP) Act, a piece of model legislation written by Americans for Prosperity to block the US EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the US’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
ALEC has provided utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislatures and inspired anti-solar legislation in a set of states. Here in Virginia at least twenty-six of our General Assembly members have known ties to ALEC, and Virginia’s largest utility, Virginia Dominion Power, is an ALEC member.
In mid-2016, there were at least 84 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states that could impact the growth of solar energy, including through limitations to net metering or new charges to make rooftop solar power less economically viable.
“More and more Virginians are adopting solar to ensure energy freedom, create jobs, and strengthen the resilience of the electric grid,” said Aaron Sutch, Program Director for VA Sun, a solar advocacy organization that works to strengthen solar policies in Virginia. “Efforts to block this choice (as outlined in the report) are not only disturbing, but will prove
unsuccessful in light of the tremendous support that solar has across a broad constituency.”
With all the advantages of solar energy, we can’t just turn our back on tapping the power of the sun. Our leaders at both the state and federal level must stand up for solar and push back against attempts to stunt the growth of renewable energy, this year and beyond.
For the full report, click here.
For solar job facts, click here.
For more on VA Sun, click here.