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Vermont ranks 9th in solar power

On July 23, Environment America Research & Policy Center, in partnership locally with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), released "Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America's Top 12 Solar States," a new report highlighting a solar energy boom across the country. The report ranks Vermont 9th in the nation for per capita solar installations. This makes Vermont one of a dozen states that have led the nation in solar energy with supportive policies and a commitment to continued expansion.

"More and more, homes and businesses are turning to solar as a pollution-free energy source with no fuel costs," said Ben Walsh, Clean Energy Advocate with VPIRG. "With the increasing threat of global warming, we must maintain momentum and resist the temptation to sit back and coast. States like Vermont can show the way."

Governor Peter Shumlin joined VPIRG in praising the state's progress, while calling for more work to be done.

"Vermont is putting solar power to work and is leading the way to a clean energy future that tackles the threat of climate change while growing jobs and the economy," Shumlin said. "We have more than doubled our solar energy in the last two and a half years, but we know our work is not done. We plan to keep Vermont at the forefront of this energy revolution."

Solar is on the rise across the country. According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2012 Year-in-Review report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, America had more than three times as much solar capacity as it did in 2010, and more than 10 times as much as it did in 2007. To boot, SEIA also found that the price to install a solar system fell by 26 percent in 2012.

"The sky's the limit on solar energy," said Rob Sargent, Energy Program Director for Environment America. "Vermont's progress should make us confident that we can do much more. To create a clean energy future Vermonters need to continue building on the policies that are working."

The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.

Other states profiled in the report include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

While these 12 states account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 85 percent of the nation's installed solar energy.

The report highlights the strong policies adopted by the top solar states that encouraged homeowners and businesses to "go solar." Most notably:

11 of the 12 have strong net metering policies, which allow customers to offset their electricity bills with onsite solar, and receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid. Vermont is widely recognized as having some of the best net metering policies in the nation.

11 of the 12 states have renewable electricity standards, requiring utilities to provide a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources; and nine of them have solar carve outs, which set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean onsite power.

10 of the 12 have strong statewide interconnection policies. Interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.

The majority of the states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

The report also cited Vermont's CLEAN Contracts or "Standard Offer" program, which has accounted for more than a third of the solar power built in the state.

In addition to covering what has worked so far, VPIRG highlighted several policy changes that would make going solar easier and more affordable:

Requiring Vermont utilities to allow their customers to go solar, no matter how many already have. Under current law, once a utility has enough solar capacity to hit 4% of its peak electric demand, it can deny customers the right to go solar.

Streamlining permitting to make it easier to build community-scale systems above 150 kW in size.

Allowing larger community-scale systems to be built under the net metering law. Currently systems larger than 500 kW are not allowed.

"Today we celebrate the solar success of our state, but we also recognize that we cannot lose the momentum we have," concluded Walsh. "Solar is growing fast, and by building on our success... we can make certain solar is a cornerstone in Vermont's efforts to combat climate change."