Eclipse and rooftop solar panels (Credit: Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity)

Eclipsing Rooftop Solar

‘Throwing Shade’ takes on states that are hindering rooftop solar progress

Renewable energy is on the verge of revolutionizing the way we get our power, but there’s one big obstacle: Powerful, investor-owned utilities and fossil fuel backers are fighting to weaken or eliminate state programs that help develop and incentivize rooftop solar investments.

When it comes to the way states treat solar development, there’s been a lot of focus on California, Nevada and other Western states, where very public fights have been brewing over net-metering policies — programs that make distributed energy affordable and establish common-sense rules on how families and neighborhoods are reimbursed for the extra energy their rooftop solar installations provide.

But those fights have overshadowed another disturbing policy trend: There are states across the country with heaps of potential for solar power that don’t have established solar programs at all. Some of the most sun-drenched states in the country are letting powerful interests eclipse their solar potential.

Today the Center for Biological Diversity released a report that shines a light on those missed opportunities. Throwing Shade takes a deeper look at 10 sunny states that don’t have a solar power market because they lack state programs and have policies that outright block development.

You might be surprised by some of the worst offenders. Texas and Florida are ranked second and third, respectively, for rooftop solar potential, yet both of these states have incredibly weak solar policy landscapes. These two states alone could account for 16 percent of total installed rooftop solar capacity, but they have less than 3 percent of what’s currently installed nationally.

As they say, everything’s bigger in Texas, and that holds true for rooftop solar potential. The Lone Star State has unparalleled opportunities to develop distributed solar energy (second only to California) — even with just meager improvements to the lacking state programs — but Texas continues to block straightforward policies to support solar energy investments.

In Florida, the Sunshine State, monopoly utilities have been squashing efforts by solar advocates to implement even the most basic solar policies for years. Despite its sunny nickname, Florida doesn’t allow third-party installers to operate in the state, including well-known and successful companies such as SolarCity and Sunrun. These installers allow families and small businesses to finance solar panels, making them more affordable.

Just last week a utility-backed anti-solar group calling themselves Consumers for Solar Choice launched an equally confusing solar initiative called “Yes on 1 for the sun.” This campaign — funded by monopoly utilities and filled with disinformation — is meant to prevent changes to Florida law that would allow third-party leases.

We can achieve about 40 percent of our electricity needs with rooftop solar — and that number doesn’t even account for the parking lots, brownfields, roadways, building facades and other locations within the already-built environment that could produce clean, wildlife-friendly energy with distributed solar. But we can’t meet our full energy potential unless we both protect and strengthen existing solar policies and ensure that all 50 states have these key solar programs in the first place.

By blocking solar expansion, state legislators and utilities are threatening the swift transition to a just and fully renewable energy system that’s needed to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

To learn more about sunny states blocking solar access, check out our report Throwing Shade: 10 Sunny States Blocking Distributed Solar Access.

Greer Ryan is the sustainability research associate at the Center for Biological Diversity.