A coalition composed of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance, Solar United Neighbors Action, the Initiative For Energy Justice, and Solar United Neighbors has created a white paper urging the federal government to create policy and funding initiatives that would support the addition of rooftop solar to 30 million US homes.
The proposal claims the 30 Million Solar plan would create 1.77 million new jobs and save $69 billion in energy costs in the first 6 years. Thereafter, it would reduce the nation’s energy bills by $30 billion a year. In addition, the amount of carbon dioxide kept out of American skies would be equivalent to shuttering 48 coal-fired generating plants for an entire year or taking 42 million conventional gasoline and diesel powered vehicles off the road.
That last part gets a Wow! from us here at CleanTechnica. Imagine how long it is going to take to get 42 million cars off the road at the current rate of EV adoption.
Policy Help & Financial Assistance
A big part of the 30 Million Solar initiative is convincing Congress to expand and extend the federal investment tax credits available for solar projects, many of which are scheduled to shrink in the near future before expiring altogether. The plan calls for bumping those credits back up to 30% and extending them for an additional 10 years. The critical elements include:
- Restoration, extension, and democratization of the Investment Tax Credit to provide a direct pay option for distributed solar projects and a 30% credit.
- Substantially increased investment in energy assistance and weatherization programs to permanently reduce energy burdens, especially with rooftop and community solar.
- New financing programs, including a national green bank and Clean Energy Victory Bonds.
- Substantial expansion of federal matching grants and loan guarantees for schools, rural homes and businesses, tribal communities, and equitable community solar projects.
- Loan loss reserves, especially to support clean energy portfolios within community development financial institutions.
- Virtual permitting, a national solar marketplace, rules supporting net metering and community solar requirements, and other market-boosting policies.
- Support for solar workers and small business owners from underrepresented groups.
- Measures to make sure federal programs and agencies are accountable to communities.
The Executive Summary of the plan reads as follows:
“The 30 Million Solar Homes policies leverage federal power to spark investment that can serve more than 30 million households with rooftop or community solar over the next five years. This decentralized approach to reaching one in four households with solar maximizes and disperses the economic benefits of expanding clean energy in the fight against climate change, directly benefiting as many Americans as possible.
“More than three quarters of total federal investment benefits marginalized communities, including low and moderate income communities, environmental justice communities, and solar deserts. Over 300 advocacy organizations, solar businesses, and faith communities have signed on in support of 30 Million Solar Homes.”
Two Thirds Of Benefits Will Flow To Underserved Communities
As of the end of the first quarter of this year, the U.S. solar industry had installed 102.8 GW of capacity, enough to power roughly 18.6 million homes. Adding rooftop solar to 30 million homes would equate to 151 GW in new solar capacity — 50% more than all the solar capacity currently in place.
Along with job creation, installing solar on 30 million homes would lead to 100 GW of the 151 GW of proposed capacity being installed in marginalized communities, helping to improve access equity to solar and easing the historic economic imbalance of the resource. The benefits of local solar are particularly important for these communities as many have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and face a slow economic recovery. Specific proposals that would benefit underserved communities include:
- A bonus 10% tax credit for commercial projects that provide Davis-Bacon prevailing wages and benefits.
- A 10% bonus credits to commercial projects primarily serving marginalized communities, or that provide resilience by combining solar and energy storage.
- A 10% bonus credits to residential projects also serving marginalized communities or providing resilience.
- Modifications to prioritize projects that provide a direct financial benefit to residents through electricity bill credits and other benefits.
The proposal also calls for:
- DOE loan guarantees for equitable community solar projects.
- Reauthorizing clean energy block grants for state, tribal, territorial, and local governments.
- Establishing solar plus storage grants for resiliency in marginalized communities.
- Instituting solar grants for schools to reinvest energy savings into operations.
- Establishing grants for developing residential and community solar in marginalized communities.
Speeding Up Solar Permitting
The so-called soft costs associated with rooftop solar can add a third to the cost of a system. The Solar Automated Permit Processing platform from the US Department of Energy hopes to speed up the permitting process and lower costs. It provides a standard portal for local governments to process permit applications that automatically checks codes to ensure safety while generating a standardized inspection checklist installers and inspectors can use to verify compliance in the field.
The DOE piloted the SolarAPP+ program in Tucson and Pima County in Arizona, and Menifee and Pleasant Valley in the California. “In Tucson, for example, SolarAPP+ reduced permitting reviews from approximately 20 business days to zero,” according to DOE.
“We have 3 million households today that have solar on their roofs, but the potential is so much greater,” DOE’s solar energy director told Reuters. “Having streamlined processes and an automated permitting platform that can make it faster, easier and cheaper for homeowners to go solar promises to really help expand the residential solar sector.”
Local governments and installers can now sign up to get started with the app or attend webinars listed on the DOE’s blog. It’s all part of the its Summer of Solar campaign aimed at lowering soft costs — design, siting, permitting, installation, and so forth — associated with rooftop solar power.
The distinguishing feature of rooftop solar is it typically is not something done by traditional utility companies. They love solar because the cost of fuel is effectively zero. But they hate to see electricity democratized. There are a few progressive utility companies out there, but most of them take the position that, “It’s our electricity, dammit, and we alone will decide who gets it and how much you pay for it.” It’s a natural consequence of the monopoly model that has been the standard of the industry for over a century.
The 30 Million Solar plan would explode that status quo. Utility industry lobbyist are salivating over the prospect of driving a stake through the heart of this proposal.