Columbus, OHIO – With one solar panel for every 25 people, Ohio remains near the bottom of an annual ranking of solar power capacity, and utilities like First Energy and their allies would just as soon keep it that way.
Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center’s new study shows that as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of solar energy across the country, they’re girding for a fight everywhere they can. While they may be fighting the hardest where solar is flourishing the most, they aren’t confining their attacks to the top solar states.
For instance, here in Ohio, we are constantly embattled with legislatures on our renewable portfolio standards, whether it is a freeze to existing standards or a complete repeal of the current policy.
“The more solar grows here in Ohio, the more big utilities try to stop it,” said Sam Gerard, campaign organizer with Environment Ohio. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, First Energy is working to block the policies that would help us become solar leaders.”
The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have for years held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.
But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model.
Last year utilities convinced officials in Hawaii as well as Nevada to eliminate their net metering programs, while earlier this year California’s program narrowly withstood a high-profile utility assault. In Arizona, one major utility charged a new fee on new solar customers, depressing rooftop solar power growth in its 1 million-person service area; two other utilities in the state are now pressing to institute similar charges and eliminate their retail net metering programs.
Yet attacks like these haven’t yet stemmed the tide of solar power. In February, solar power cleared the milestone of 1 million installations across the country, and is expected to add another million in just two years’ time as prices continue to plummet. Even here in lagging Ohio, we saw this amazing growth.
"It’s possible to preserve the planet and grow the economy at the same time,” said Michael Smucker, Director of Growth for Third Sun Solar, a solar installation company based in Athens. “Third Sun Solar has grown from an operation run out of our attic to the largest regional solar installers in the Midwest.”
“What’s good for the environment is also good for business,” Smucker added. “We’re living proof.”
Here in state, small businesses, local elected officials, and average Americans are demonstrating their support the increasingly cost-competitive energy source, a crucial part of the solution to global warming. Recent polls show more than 70 percent of Ohio voters support policies to expand solar power.
“Ohio is typically considered part of ‘coal-country’ and very fossil-fuel heavy,” Dylan Bederman, the President of OSU’s Engineers for a Sustainable World, said. “Despite that, we still haven’t tapped into our full technological potential for solar.”
“Given its huge benefit to the environment and ever increasing efficiency and decreasing cost Ohio can still do better,” Bederman continued.
Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in the 10 leading-edge states, who make up 88 percent of the nation’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. All have renewable energy requirements, for example, and nine have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid.
Environment Ohio said it was time for First Energy to allow the state to realize its vast solar potential.
“These attacks by First Energy and their allies are a desperate attempt to stymie the tide of support for solar,” said Gerard. “It’s time for First Energy to stop blocking clean energy and ride the solar wave.”