A new year brings hope for the future. It’s a time to set new goals to better ourselves, our communities and our planet. As we dive into 2016, one resolution that’s shining through here at Earthjustice is continuing our work to accelerate the transition away from dirty fossil fuels. A key part of this effort is advancing solar energy technology.
2016 promises to be a busy year for solar advocacy. With declining costs and record growth, the main challenges to bringing solar to scale are now largely regulatory—ensuring that the right policies and programs are in place to expand access to this critical clean energy resource. This is especially true for rooftop solar and other forms of distributed solar, which provide clean, local sources of power. The rise of rooftop solar has spurred a growing utility effort to stall customer adoption, keeping us busy in the fight to ensure sustainable and accessible solar for all consumers.
To help prepare for the year to come, let’s take stock of the progress we made in 2015, a landmark year for solar energy and for efforts to fight climate change in general:
- Historic global climate agreement reached in Paris. The agreement committed more than 180 countries to limit the rise in global temperatures, sending a strong message that nations of the world are committed to fighting climate change and accelerating our transition to a clean energy economy. (Check out our Road to Paris blog series to learn more about Earthjustice’s participation in the Paris climate talks.)
- The EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan. This plan sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants and provides a foundation for a transformational shift from fossil fuels to clean energy.
- Congress extended the solar investment tax credit. This policy, which was set to expire at the end of 2016, will bolster the continued growth of solar installations. The federal government will provide a tax credit for solar projects at the current 30 percent rate through 2019, followed by a gradual slowdown over the next few years.
2015 was also a busy year in the state regulatory arena, where solar debates have been heating up for some time. Traditional power interests in many states have aggressively tried to change electric rates and metering in a way that would reduce the economic savings of going solar. Earthjustice was involved in numerous state proceedings to ensure that solar customers are treated fairly, that the value of solar is recognized and that customer access to this clean energy resource grows. Many of these regulatory battles will continue well into 2016 and will shape the future of distributed solar in America, with implications for consumer savings, local clean energy jobs, public health and progress in the fight against climate change.
Our list of ongoing work is long, but here are a few 2015 victories to toast:
- New Mexico: We stopped El Paso Electric Company, a utility serving southern New Mexico, from becoming the first regulated utility in the nation to establish separate, higher rates for rooftop solar customers.
- Maryland: Earthjustice, with a broad coalition of solar advocates, helped pass legislation that established a community solar pilot program—a program that allows residents who can’t take advantage of rooftop solar on their own homes to invest in solar power. In 2016 and beyond, we’ll work on the rulemaking process for the pilot program, which will hopefully lead to permanent programs.
- Colorado: After a lengthy investigation (with Earthjustice input), the Colorado Public Utilities Commission decided that no changes were necessary to Colorado’s successful net metering policy, which has helped create a strong market for rooftop solar in Colorado. We will continue our work in Colorado in the coming year to help expand access to solar.
- Arizona: We helped prevent Tucson Electric Power (TEP) from rushing through net metering rollbacks in 2015. In the face of opposition from us and others, the utility withdrew its proposal targeting solar customers. But TEP and other utilities will be before the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2016 in a series of rate cases seeking solar fee hikes and changes in net metering. We’re opposing these regressive changes. We’re also involved in a 2016 proceeding that looks at the costs and benefits of distributed solar in Arizona, which will inform future rate cases filed by Arizona utilities.
Our work continues into the new year to secure a cleaner, healthier future. We’ll work to ensure we have policies in place that let us harness the power of the sun to fuel our homes and businesses. It’s also likely that we’ll continue to face stiff resistance from many utilities and fossil fuel interests, and that we’ll have some setbacks along the way. But what New Year’s resolution is easy? Building on our successes in 2015—and with the huge benefits solar energy provides on our side—we’re hopeful that 2016 will be a bright year indeed.