Renewable Energy: The State of Play in 2017
The renewable energy sector ended 2016 and began 2017 under assault. Nevada and other states rolled back net metering laws. Fishing interests brought a lawsuit to block an offshore wind lease and upend BOEM’s offshore wind program. And—not least of all—the Trump administration has promised to kill the Clean Power Plan.
But despite these headwinds, it’s becoming increasingly clear that economics and technology are converging to propel renewables forward. Both onshore wind and commercial solar just became cost-competitive with natural gas on an unsubsidized basis, according to a recent analysis by Lazard. The U.S. now leads the world in wind energy production. And Hawaii is on track to power its grid with 100% renewables by 2040—five years earlier than originally planned.
Featuring prominently in Hawaii and other states are plans to increase distributed generation and rooftop solar, which depend on effective net metering policies. Properly designed, net metering should fairly compensate both solar owners (for generation) and utility companies (for grid and, potentially, storage services). Most states already have some form of net metering program, but with the continued expansion of renewable energy—especially distributed generation—many states are looking for ways to improve their net metering and renewable energy policies. As we wrote last spring, states continue to come up with new and innovative approaches that can create a level—and profitable—playing field for both solar owners and utility companies.
To help keep track of legislative developments, the Center for the New Energy Economy and the and Advanced Energy Economy recently released a free utility called the Advanced Energy Legislation Tracker, a searchable database of state-level energy legislation going back to 2012, including any legislation that was introduced or passed. It contains various search capabilities that are great for identifying pending or recent renewable energy and net metering bills. One search we ran identified 36 pieces of renewable energy legislation enacted in 2016 alone, including highlights such as:
A new mandate for Massachusetts utilities to acquire 1,600 MW in offshore wind by 2027, along with and new net metering provisions for small hydro projects;
An expansion and modification to the net metering program in New Hampshire;
New feed-in tariffs in California for qualifying biomass and hydro power projects;
Expansions to Connecticut’s net-metering programs for agriculture and low- or zero-emissions projects;
A significant expansion of Washington D.C.’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS); and
A clean energy bill in Oregon that will eliminate coal-fired generation in the state by 2030, expand the state’s RPS program, and enable the expansion of community solar projects.
These are just a few examples of recent state-level legislative action—2017 is shaping up to be a busy year when it comes to energy policy, with another 185 bills related to power generation or renewable energy already pending in statehouses across the nation. But with renewables more cost competitive than ever, and with many states embracing a diversified grid, it is becoming increasingly clear that, regardless of what happens in Washington, renewable energy will continue its march forward in many states. The bigger question is which states will choose to lead, and which will lag behind.