Lawmakers in California and Massachusetts have recently introduced bills that would require their states to get all of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
ECOWATCH — California Senate leader Kevin de León, who introduced Senate Bill 584 last Friday, would require the Golden State to have a carbon-free grid by 2045. It would also accelerate the state's current goal of hitting 50 percent renewables by 2030 to 2025.
"The California Energy Commission says the state got about 27 percent of its electricity from renewables last year, slightly better than the 25 percent required by law. Capacity has more than doubled over the past decade. California's largest utilities have also said they are ahead of schedule for meeting their 2020 goal."
Massachusetts legislators have also announced a measure requiring the state to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035. All of its energy needs, including heating and transportation, would have to come from renewable sources by 2050.
So far, the only state that has an official 100 percent renewable energy standard is Hawaii. Hawaii's aggressive clean energy mandate—requiring the state's electricity to come from renewable sources no later than 2045—was enacted back in 2015.
Many renewable-energy loving states—as well as town and city governments—are ramping up their clean energy goals in spite of the federal government's favoritism of fossil fuels and indifference towards fighting climate change.
This month, Nevada assemblyman Chris Brook introduced a bill to ramp up the state's renewable portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2040. Nevada's current standard calls for 25 percent by 2025.
Transitioning to 100 percent clean energy is not far-fetched
Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor and cofounder of The Solutions Project, has created a state-by-state roadmap to convert the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Last year, The Solutions Project team published a study explaining how each state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into renewable resources available in each state such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and even small amounts of tidal and wave power.
The authors found that converting the nation's energy infrastructure into renewables is ideal because it helps fight climate change, saves lives by eliminating air pollution, creates jobs in the rapidly booming renewable energy sector and also stabilizes energy prices.
"It is now established that such a transition is possible state by state and country by country," Jacobson commented to EcoWatch in December.
Also, as USA TODAY pointed out from a University of Texas at Austin study, wind turbines and big solar farms are the cheapest sources of new electricity generation across much of the U.S.
I had the chance to take a deeper dive with Jacobson via email on Wednesday. He took the time to answer these following questions:
What do you say to the critics who say it is not feasible for California, Massachusetts (or any other state) to get to 100 percent clean energy?
Jacobson: They speak without having ever studied the issue or examined the numbers, including the ability to keep the grid stable or the costs of energy.
What are some of the specific benefits for California and Massachusetts if they transition to clean energy?
Jacobson: Create more net long-term jobs than lost, stabilize energy prices because the fuel costs of wind and solar are zero, reduce the costs of energy since onshore wind and large-scale solar are the least expensive forms of new energy in the U.S. today, eliminate 13,000 air pollution deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses in California alone saving 3 percent of the GDP, reduce terrorism and catastrophic risk because of the more distributed nature of the grid and reduce dependence on foreign energy.
What are some of the biggest obstacles (i.e. technology, politics, fossil fuel industry) for states to get to 100 percent clean energy?
Jacobson: Lack of information and people with a financial interest in the current infrastructure. Once people have full information about the transition and its benefits, most are likely to support the transition. Ninety percent of the blockade to faster progress is due to individuals and companies that have a financial interest in the current infrastructure thus profit over it not happening.
Are you working with any of the legislators who have proposed these 100 percent clean energy bills? If so, who? And, what role is The Solutions Project playing in helping states advance renewable energy policies?
Jacobson: We provide information to all parties who request it, thus our goal is not partisan. It is purely to help facilitate the healthiest and cleanest future for Americans and the world.
Installing solar panels on the roof of your home is a big project – but it can pay dividends in more ways than one. There’s the obvious environmental benefit, but for many homeowners, the joy comes with a dollar sign attached.
THE GUARDIAN — Turning your home into a mini power plant can save you good money on your electric bill. Here is a guide to get you started:
An average, 5-kilowatt system will cost about $15,000 to $20,000, depending on where you live in the US. It pays to find out if your state or utility offers rebates or other incentives to help lower the cost of going solar. Here is a sure bet: the federal government offers a 30% tax credit (though it’s set to decline starting in 2020).
You can start your research with this federally funded, comprehensive database that lists all sorts of incentives and policies for renewable energy by state. If that seems daunting, then begin your homework by contacting the state agency that regulates utilities.
Some states with strong policies to promote solar energy use, such as California, New York and Massachusetts, have created their own websites listing incentives, financing options, and tips for hiring a contractor to install the solar panels. Your utility might offer a similar helpful guide.
As with any major home improvement project, finding a good contractor is crucial. A trustworthy installer will secure the necessary permits, properly connect the solar energy system to your home and the local electric grid, and apply for incentives for you.
Some states – or local utilities – post a list of certified solar service companies. Many consumers ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. Googling works just as well. Regardless of the approach, you should always get several quotes and chat with the installers to find a good match.
Another big decision is how to pay for the equipment and services. You can pay for them outright, of course. A solar energy system lasts about 25 years, so paying for it upfront will be a cheaper option over time than to lease it. As an owner, you get a bonus incentive if you live in a state that allows you to sell excess solar electricity to your utility. The money you earn will show up as a credit on your bill.
Another popular option is to leave the ownership and maintenance of the solar panels to your installer (and its investors) and pay only for the electricity produced from the rooftop system. This arrangement is done through what’s commonly called a power purchase agreement, which can last 15 years or more. Your solar company typically sweetens the deal by charging you a lower electric rate than your utility would. Be sure to read the contract to see how your installer sets the electric rates over time. Those rates are likely to change.
The solar energy market is growing because the average price for solar energy systems has fallen so much – 54% between 2010 and 2016, according to GTM Research. While your solar panels may not produce all the electricity you need, they are becoming a good investment to lower your bill.
Matt McDonough and his crew rolled up to the Brooklyn Park home around 8 a.m., unloaded their ladders, harnesses and tools, and got to work tiling another roof with solar panels. It was a typical workday for the four-man team. They don't talk much as they check electrical connections and begin hauling equipment up to the roof of the single-story 1920s home because, after hundreds of installations, they have it down to a science. The job will take a day, maybe two, and when it's done, they'll be on to the next one.
THE BALTIMORE SUN — "There's never a time we don't have work," said McDonough, who leads one of 10 installation crews at Solar Energy World.
Business is booming for Solar Energy World and other solar companies in Maryland, as sun-sourced energy becomes more affordable and accessible. Attracted by solar-friendly policies and mounting demand, solar companies are flocking to the state and hiring in droves.
Maryland added 1,160 solar jobs in 2016, a 27 percent jump from the previous year, bringing the industry's employment to more than 5,400, according to an annual solar jobs census by the Solar Foundation.
The U.S. solar market nearly doubled last year, with production capacity growing 95 percent to 14,626 megawatts, according to a preview of the upcoming U.S. Solar Market Insight report, a collaboration between the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. While residential capacity grew steadily, the biggest gains last year came in utility installations, many of them made to address state rules.
Earlier this month, state lawmakers voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of a requirement that a quarter of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. The move accelerated a previous goal that renewable energy account for 20 percent of the state's electricity by 2022.
Across Maryland, from the Eastern Shore to Harford and Howard counties, solar companies have installed acres of solar arrays on farmland to sell power to utilities and others.
But these big projects don't drive employment like rooftop installation and maintenance does, according to the Solar Foundation, a research and education nonprofit organization.
"We're constantly interviewing," said Geoff Mirkin, CEO of Solar Energy World, "so if and when the next opening comes up, we're ready."
The Elkridge company's revenue nearly doubled to $31 million in 2016, up from about $16 million in 2015, and expects more growth this year, which means more hiring. Mirkin, who has 93 employees, wants to add two more installation teams, for a total of 12, by the end of March and is considering establishing new field offices to expand the company's service area beyond the Baltimore-Washington region.
Solar companies looking to grow face a unique hiring challenge: how to find workers with experience in a relatively new line of work.
"The solar industry is growing so quickly, it doesn't have a tremendous pool of qualified candidates to choose from," said Andrea Luecke, the Solar Foundation's president and executive director. "They're really hiring a lot of people by looking for basic competencies, people who have transferable skills and are willing to put in the time to help the company grow."
That's the case for Direct Energy, a Texas company that established its solar business by acquiring Howard County-based Astrum Solar in 2014. This year, the company expects to add up to 15 workers in Maryland to its Mid-Atlantic division, which employs between 60 and 70 solar employees in the region. Another 100 support staff are based at Direct Energy's solar headquarters in Columbia.
"The vast majority of people we hire, it's their first job in solar," said Anthony Bramante, Direct Energy's head of residential solar for the Mid-Atlantic division.
Bramante and Mirkin, of Solar Energy World, said they look for workers with experience in construction or electrical work who can be trained in the intricacies of solar installation.
Ethan Goddard had just graduated St. John's College with a liberal arts degree when he heard a radio ad for Solar Energy Services and decided to apply for an installer job. Two years and a few promotions later, he's a commercial project manager at the Millersville company.
"There was a certain point after I got promoted to a crew leader I remember thinking, 'I might have stumbled on a career,'" said Goddard, 25, of Annapolis. "It was something I never thought would happen."
McDonough, the Solar Energy World installer, built custom doors for 10 years before making the move to solar. He'd heard the pay was better and liked the idea of doing something "for the better good," he said.
Workforce development programs in Maryland have honed in on the solar industry's appetite for workers and openness to on-the-job training.
Civic Works, a community services organization in Baltimore, last year launched a three-month solar job training program for city residents who have struggled in the past to secure jobs.
"We just saw that the industry was exploding and there were a ton of job openings," said Evie Schwartz, an associate director of outreach and production. "The companies were growing, but there was a skills gap."
The program, run through the nonprofit's Baltimore Center for Green Careers, partners with local solar companies to include two-month apprenticeships. The program also covers basic construction skills and social skills, and guarantees job placement for all graduates.
Civic Works is expanding the program to include career development for solar employees, to help them advance professionally.
It also plays into an initiative Baltimore launched last year to bring solar panels to the rooftops of low-income city residents. The state Public Service Commission finalized regulations last week for community solar programs, through which a group of homeowners or renters can share the costs and benefits of a solar installation.
"The bottom line is Maryland set up an environment that was conducive to solar businesses coming to the state," Newbold said, "and we're obviously not the only ones selling here."
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James The Solar Energy Expert