Solar is largely accepted as one of the best alternative energy sources to fossil fuel, and solar panels have never been more widely available or more affordable to homeowners.
However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution at the micro or macro level.
Different states have different laws when it comes to solar installation, including varying levels of red tape, and some states offer financial incentives where others do not. In this article, we break down the different factors that make solar power so varied from state to state.
A state’s solar-friendliness depends on a few factors, including the following:
We’ll go through each of these factors one by one, but to start, here are the best and worst states (ranked 1–51 including Washington, D.C.) for solar according to the SEIA’s (Solar Energy Industries Association) 2021–2022 data.
4. North Carolina
8. New Jersey
9. New York
51. North Dakota
50. South Dakota
48. West Virginia
Some states just plain have more sunlight than others. These are the states that will find solar most advantageous as far as energy generation and utility-cost savings.
Other states can still see the benefits of solar, but those systems won’t produce as much solar energy.
Installation costs might be similar if you live in a less-sunny state, but the return on your investment will be longer since you’ll need to pay for more energy from the grid utility than customers whose solar systems are outputting more energy.
In general, solar radiation capacity is highest in California, Florida, and the Southwest, and lower in the Northeast, Northwest, and Midwest regions of the United States. See this map from the U.S. Energy Information Administration for a visual:
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy
Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) account for nearly 80 percent of the energy used in the United States, so there are a lot of jobs on the line and there continues to be a lot of profit potential from these resources. These forces explain, in part, why there is such variation in solar-supportive policies.
Often, fossil-fuel-invested major corporations will have lobbyists representing them on Capitol Hill to try to pass legislation that helps them maintain power. When this happens, fledgling solar companies and bigger-picture solar initiatives can be pushed aside.
This also happens at the state level, which is another reason why regulations vary from state to state.
For example, the Georgia Public Service Commission recently adopted the Georgia Power Company’s proposals to impose a higher interconnection fee for new solar customers and a rate increase across the board for all current ratepayers.
Another example is the NEM 3.0 policy in California. The California Public Utilities Commission passed a new net metering policy that will significantly reduce the long-term economic benefits of going solar for California residents without the purchase of a solar battery.
Related articles: Net Metering 3.0 and Why You Need to Purchase Solar Before April 2023 | Everything You Need to Know About Solar Batteries
Some states are known to make solar access difficult in order to keep electricity costs down, which is understandable. This is the case in many southern states that are able to access cheap electricity through the use of coal. And coal and electricity companies find interference of solar power systems as cumbersome to the system in place.
But it’s clear that the fear of solar companies encroaching upon the business of utilities is playing a chief role in policymaking that undermines solar’s environmental and financial potential for those who can afford it.
This doesn't mean that solar energy is getting completely pushed aside in its growth. Many states have renewable portfolio standards in place to help the renewable energy industry flourish. A renewable portfolio standard is a government mandate that requires states to increase their production of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass.
A community solar policy involves a group of individuals owning property collaborating to benefit from the same solar farm. This is more common for people who are renting or for homeowners whose roofs don't support solar panels. Some of the worst states in the country for solar do not support community solar policies.
For further research, see Community Solar Market Trends, which is a U.S. Department of Energy website that visualizes market status data by state.
Being a member of a homeowners association can make acquiring solar panels more complicated and, in some cases, nearly impossible. However, some states have solar access laws in place that give consumers the green light to acquire solar panels, even if it goes against a homeowners association.
The following states have solar access laws:
As with most industries, the solar industry is exceptionally hot in some markets and decidedly cool in others.
To put this in perspective, according to SEIA stats, more than 2,000 solar companies operate in the state of California (the most solar-friendly state) while only seven operate in North Dakota (the least solar-friendly state).
Many solar companies choose to operate in certain states and stay out of others based on solar energy potential, solar regulations, and economic and population factors we won’t explore in full detail here. Even when policy conditions are optimal, if a state has a lower population or a lower population density, marketing and sales won’t perform as well as they would in a more densely-populated area.
In some ways, discussing the various factors that contribute to solar-friendliness is a chicken-or-egg scenario. It’s feasible that greater grassroots demand for solar energy and solar energy-based jobs could, over time, potentially sway or overpower parties lobbying for restrictive solar policy. But even with the potential for jobs in renewable energy, solar isn’t likely to win over industries rooted in fossil fuel production.
Consumers in all states can potentially benefit from the recent extension of the solar tax credit by the federal government. Eligible solar purchases, including solar panels, inverters, batteries, and installation costs, can qualify for a 30 percent tax credit towards your taxes owed in a calendar year.
Related articles: How to Save Money with the Inflation Reduction Act | How to Get Solar Power Financing
In addition to the federal incentive, some states offer incentives to their residents for going solar.
Find your state’s incentive information in the respective link below, underneath a list of top companies in your state.
|Alabama||Georgia||Maryland||New Jersey||South Carolina|
|Alaska||Hawaii||Massachusetts||New Mexico||South Dakota|
|District of Columbia||Louisiana||Nevada||Pennsylvania||West Virginia|
|Florida||Maine||New Hampshire||Rhode Island||Wisconsin|
Even though the United States is composed of some states that do not support solar, collectively, it still ranks second in total world solar electricity generation (after China), according to EIA’s International Energy statistics.
Where pro-fossil-fuel lobbyists seek to influence each state-level Public Utilities Commission, there are also organizations that support solar adoption and improvement through training and advocacy.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) does research and development in photovoltaics and other areas that can improve solar technology and adoption including roofing, in addition to recycling and other clean technologies and integrated energy efforts.
NREL offers decision support and resources to local governments seeking to go solar including those in your state. One resource is their five-module city and county solar photovoltaics training program.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (EIA) works to establish supportive policy frameworks for solar by engaging with policymakers in Washington, D.C. SEIA's state affairs team encourages the implementation and protection of pro-solar policies, working with local partners and official state affiliates.
The goal is to ultimately support policy that allows solar to compete in the marketplace as a reliable, cost-competitive energy option for customers. While some states may never support solar, progress can be made in other states with homeowners eager to invest in solar.
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