Policy leads the way: Impactful action at the state level in 2021

While federal policy action (or inaction) grabs all the headlines, let's look back at some of the most impactful state and local developments from 2021.

Delaware boosts its RPS

Gov. John Carney, D-Del., signed into law SB33, which raises Delaware’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for regulated utilities to 40% by 2035. The new law raises Delaware’s previous RPS goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. The RPS solar carve-out also will nearly triple from 3.5% by 2025 to 10% by 2035.

New Mexico gains a community solar program

With the signing of SB 84, New Mexico became the 21st state to establish a statewide community solar program. Regulators have until April 2022 t0 evaluate existing community solar programs and develop rules for a state program. The law also calls on regulators to develop a list of low-income service organizations and programs that may pre-qualify low-income customers.

Arizona regulators kick the can on clean energy goals

Arizona utility regulators voted 3-2 to advance an amended package aimed at moving Arizona’s regulated utilities to 100% carbon-free energy by 2070. The vote came after the energy rules package failed at the commission’s May 5 meeting. The package is generally seen as inactive and laggard, even falling behind the stated goals of the state’s investor-owned utilities.

Texas works to protect its grid

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bills 2 and 3 into law on June 8. The laws are intended to change how parts of the state’s power grid must prepare for extreme weather and how the Electric Reliability Corporation of Texas (ERCOT) is governed.

The legislation was sparked by a mid-February winter storm that lasted for days and crippled much of the state’s electric power grid. Power plants that had not been winterized were particularly hard hit in a near carbon-copy of a power outage that hit the state in February 2011.

An action-packed year for New Jersey

In July, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) voted unanimously to implement a new solar incentive program that it said will enable up to 3,750 MW of new solar generation by 2026.

The Successor Solar Incentive Program (SuSI) was part of a nearly three-year process mandated by the Clean Energy Act of 2018 to replace the state’s Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) program with new incentives that encourage solar development while minimizing ratepayer cost.

The regulatory agency said that solar energy is expected to generate approximately 10% of New Jersey’s total electricity needs once the program is fully implemented.

In October, the BPU voted to approve 164 MW of new community solar projects, with all of that capacity aimed at serving low-to-moderate-income (LMI) households.

Regulators also said that the state will transition the two-year-old pilot community solar program to permanent status. The decision to move to a permanent program now rather than wait for a third year of the pilot to commence was driven by the pilot’s success so far.

The community solar program is administered by New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program. It provides access to solar energy through a subscription-based model.

Just a few weeks later, in November, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law bill A3352, which requires all new warehouses in the state to be built as solar-ready buildings.

Now, new warehouses (defined as any building 100,000 square feet or larger and that primarily is used to store goods for resale) built on or after July 1, 2022 will need to be optimized for solar. If the structure is intended to use hot water, then it also must allow for the installation of a solar water heating system.

North Carolina: State of compromise

North Carolina’s 2021 was marked by new policy at the price of concessions. In October, the State Legislature passed House Bill 951 (HB 951), a measure which looks to formally adopt Governor Roy Cooper’s goal of 70% carbon emission reduction by 2030 into state law.

The bill looks to put many of the state’s coal plants on an accelerated retirement schedule, at a schedule to be determined by state regulators.

The bill also calls on state regulators to develop a plan for the state’s utilities to achieve the emissions reduction goal, mandate if passed, through power generation, transmission and distribution, grid modernization, storage, energy efficiency measures, demand-side management, and emerging technology, no later than the end of 2022.

However, also included in the bill are reduced oversights for Duke Energy, including the freedom for the utility to institute multi-year rate plans (MYRP), a rate structure that the utility has been pursuing for some time. The MYRP is a process by which the utility can start charging customers for projected future costs. The current process looks backward at costs actually incurred.

To end November, Duke energy came to terms on compromise with a number of environmental organizations regarding the company’s new net metering compensation structure. The new rates include minimum monthly bills, non-bypassable charges, and grid access fees for larger systems, all things that solar advocates have long argued against as harmful for the health of the state’s rooftop solar market.

Healthy net metering policy in South Carolina

In late May, the South Carolina Public Service Commission issued final rules for net metering, which the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said will better align with customer behavior and electricity system needs.

The net metering regime for current solar customers will be extended through 2025 or 2029, depending on when customers switched to solar. At the end of that period, customers can continue with the current setup at 2025 or 2029 retail rates, or switch to the new program. Key elements of the new program include time-of-use rates and rebates for smart thermostats, both of which SEIA said better align customer behavior with electricity system needs.

Power to the NIMBYs in Ohio

Ohio legislators in June passed legislation granting county commissions the power to stop new wind and solar development projects in their tracks.

Senate Bill 52 would require renewable energy project developers to share their application with township trustees 30 days before applying for a certificate from the Ohio Power Siting Board. HB 118 currently awaits referral to a House committee.

Township trustees, after reviewing the application, could then move to call for a referendum petition. If that petition receives signatures representing at least 8% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, then the project must be voted on at the next primary or general election before moving forward.

Critics of the bill have argued that it adds an additional and unnecessary bureaucratic step to the project  development process, one which has already been bogged down by the Ohio Power Siting Board’s lengthy application project. These same constraints do not apply to oil and gas projects.

No small feat: Illinois passes new, sweeping energy package

Potentially the most arduous fight of the year (and the end of 2020) ended this fall, as the Illinois Senate passed The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB 2408), a sweeping energy package that sets the state on a trajectory toward 100% clean energy by 2050.

The measure is expected to provide a pathway forward for the state’s solar industry, which has been languishing for almost a year following the exhaustion of previous incentives.

New York plans for 10 GW of distributed solar by 2030

Governor Kathy Hochul announced a plan that is expected to generate enough clean electricity per year to power nearly 700,000 additional New York homes, including those in disadvantaged communities.

The roadmap proposes a strategy for expanding the state’s NY-Sun initiative into one of the largest solar programs in the nation, expected to spur approximately $4.4 billion in private investment and create 6,000 additional solar jobs across the state. The expansion will also deliver at least 35% of the benefits with a goal of 40% from the investments to disadvantaged communities and low-to moderate- income New Yorkers.

A job unfinished: The battle over net metering continues in California

Earlier in December, California became the first state in the country to mandate that solar power plus energy storage be integrated into all future commercial structures via its most recent update to building codes. Additionally, the new building code added a requirement that all new residential construction must be ready for the addition of energy storage. The regulatory body estimates this requirement may add 280 MW of annual solar capacity, as well as 400 MWh of energy storage.

The value of that added solar capacity is fueling the hottest debate in residential solar for the time being, as California still looks to make a final decision on its third iteration of net metering – NEM-3.

The vote is highly charged. At least 17 parties have submitted opinions backed by financial and legal arguments sent directly to California’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC). The whole of the legal filings – thousands of pages of documents – can be found on the CPUC website.

Various parties are arguing in favor of an 80% reduction to solar’s net-metering value, as well as monthly fees of $75 for homeowners with solar systems attached to the grid. Commercial customers could be facing fees from $800 to $3,400 per month. These fees would negate most of the savings for installing solar power.

The various players and proposals involved in the proceedings are far too nuanced to be done justice in a roundup, so we refer you to pv magazine’s full gauntlet of previous coverage, plus other solar voices chiming in.

Policy leads the way: Impactful action at the state level in 2021