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August 26, 2013

What Solar Panels on the White House Signals About the Future of Rooftop Solar

The growth of solar energy in America is simply stunning. Today, hundreds of thousands of Americans have already gone solar. The costs of solar panels have dropped 80 percent from 2007 to 2012. The solar industry supports 125,000 jobs nationwide, and 43,000 in California alone with solar panel initiatives being one of the main drivers behind that vibrant job growth.

A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, puts an even finer point on this trend. Based on 2012 data, the number of residential energy customers that participate in solar rollover credit programs (commonly referred as “net energy metering”) has grown almost 60-fold since 2003. Like rollover minutes on a cell phone, net-energy metering allows customers to offset their electricity bills with clean energy — such as solar or wind power, for example — and to receive bill credits for extra energy sent back to the utility.

As the chart below shows, this hockey-stick graph would make any investor proud.

Graph

The growth in rooftop solar is so popular, in fact, that even the White House is getting into the game. Last week the Washington Post reported that the installation of new solar panels on the roof of the White House has begun, fulfilling a commitment President Obama made in 2010. The White House explained that the solar panels are "part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building," and that the solar panels are "estimated to pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years."

One of the key reasons rooftop solar has grown so quickly is because of state level net-metering programs. This process reduces demand for the utilities' electricity that often comes from dirty and dangerous energy sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. It brings dirty energy in direct competition with clean energy just with the simple act of installing solar panels on roofs. Solar panel initiatives bring not only energy savings, but they also create local jobs, expand our clean energy economy and reduce our need for dirty energy power plants that pollute our air, water, make us sick, and contribute to climate disruption.

It's no wonder that Americans from all walks of life are installing solar panels on their roofs and the White House is trying to play catch up. California alone, the country's current largest solar market in the nation, is already having two-thirds of all new installations occur in low income and middle class neighborhoods.

CA solarUnfortunately, in states across the country, net-metering programs and the ability to install rooftop solar is under attack. Utility-backed bills that would force homeowners to pay a surcharge for solar panels installed on their homes are making their way through state legislatures. Already one such bill is nearing a vote in California and if that one passes, dozens of other states could be next.

The White House's installation of solar panels highlights the need to ensure that all Americans -- from low income homeowners to the President of the United States -- have the opportunity to install solar panels on their homes. The White House made a clear case for the economic and environmental reasons for going solar. We must defend against attacks on clean energy to make sure every American -- just like the President did this past week -- is able to install solar panels on their home.

-- Refugio Mata, Sierra Club's My Generation Clean Energy Campaign

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