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May 05, 2011

Carry On Eastward Sun

SolarinstallationIt's no surprise that California topped the Solar Energy Industries Association's 2010 list of states with the most solar. The Golden State claims nearly half the country's total installed solar photovoltaic capacity -- almost one gigawatt's worth. But don't be surprised if states east of the Mississippi start nibbling away at California's dominance during the coming decade.

Solar companies in California have pegged 2011 as the year business spreads east. Since late last year, SunRun, Sungevity, SolarCity have been among the businesses looking eastward and actively establishing themselves there.

"We've been wanting to expand to the East Coast for some time, but were slowed by economic conditions before this year," Jonathan Bass, a SolarCity spokesperson, told me. "States like Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have incentives, called SRECs, that help make solar more affordable." SRECs, or solar renewable energy certificates, are magic beans for solar companies. State governments use them toward meeting renewable standard goals and making solar financially palatable for people who might otherwise be on the fence.

This explains why New Jersey ranked second in SEIA's list. The Garden State had a great year, "installing more than 25 MW per quarter in the first three quarters, then ballooning to more than 50 MW in the last quarter."

State legislatures in New York and Connecticut are following New Jersey's lead; the Empire State wants 33 percent renewables by 2015. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg garnered headlines last week by trumpeting the idea of planting panels on the city's vast nearby landfills: "Solar firms are already lining up for a piece of the city's landfills, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last week that some 250 acres would be opened for sun-powered installations," reported Reuters. "The move gives New York a chance to shine in the emerging solar space, and to compete with neighbor-states Massachusetts and New Jersey, where utility-scale projects on brownfields -- abandoned industrial sites and landfills -- are increasingly popping up."

California was fast out of the gate. It will probably lead the pack in solar for years. But Northeastern states on competitive streaks have the policies and ambition in place to attract renewable-energy companies and green jobs. This all bodes well for the clean-energy economy.

"It's great to see more states increasing solar adoption," Bass said. "Government, businesses, and consumers are all becoming more aware of the consequences of our energy choices, and I think you'll see clean power adoption continue to increase as a result of that."

-- Brian Foley

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