The growth of the solar industry over the last ten years is in large part thanks to successful public policy and legislation at the federal, state and local levels. To engage with the hot topics in solar policy today, and to help guide the discussion of solar policy in the future, EnergySage joined the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) on Capitol Hill to talk to members of Congress about solar in the US.
While in DC, we discussed solar energy policy with staff members for four members of our home state’s delegation to Congress: Senator Ed Markey, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Stephen Lynch, and Representative Joe Kennedy III.
Here are our key takeaways from a day spent on the Hill.
Big picture: solar policy is effective
The process by which new solar policy is enacted may seem tedious, but the results have been nothing short of astounding. For instance, the extension of the solar investment tax credit (ITC) is forecast to cost the federal government $12 billion over ten years. At the same time, however, the solar ITC generates $140 billion in tax revenue to the federal government, a significant return on the government’s investment.
What’s more, the solar ITC, in conjunction with the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, contributed to a significant price decline in the cost of solar installations. Quotes on the EnergySage Marketplace have dropped below $3 per Watt in recent months, a milestone nearly unthinkable a decade ago.
Policies like the solar ITC make going solar much easier for property owners throughout the country. This incentive provides you with a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of your solar installation. In other words, if your solar installation costs $20,000, you would receive a credit of $6,000 towards what you owe in taxes.
However, the solar ITC has an expiration date; the credit drops from a 30 percent credit to 26 percent in 2020, then to 22 percent credit in 2021 before disappearing altogether. As such, it’s important to begin the process of discussing the next era of federal solar policies, which is exactly what SEIA is doing in our nation’s capital.
First up: a storage investment tax credit
For many residential solar plus storage applications, the ITC can already be applied to the cost of your storage installation. However, the same is not true for all solar plus storage installations at a larger scale, providing a roadblock to greater deployment of a very effective technology pairing.
To ensure that storage is eligible for the same tax treatment as solar installations, SEIA is advocating for extending the ITC to standalone storage, a policy that would be both energy neutral (i.e., any type of generation can charge the storage) and technology neutral (i.e., any type of storage technology would qualify).
Across the board, the offices we met with understand the rationale for extending the ITC to storage and appeared very favorable to the policy in general. The major roadblock is timing. While SEIA is interested in passing this legislation by the end of the year, the current “lame duck” session is very sparse in the house – Representatives leaving the House have already been kicked out of their offices! – and there seems to be little urgency for compromise on this type of legislation before the new members are sworn in during January.
Next up: infrastructure bill
A common theme from each of the offices we spoke to is that the most likely area for significant bipartisan policy movement in Congress in 2019 is on an infrastructure bill. Such a bill could take many different shapes, but there are a number of ways that it could benefit the solar industry.
First and foremost, an infrastructure bill may include provisions to upgrade our outdated energy infrastructure, primarily focusing on transmission and distribution lines. This could benefit solar in a few ways, including making community solar more accessible to more customers.
Next, if an infrastructure bill focuses on energy infrastructure, it is likely to focus on resiliency, the grid’s ability to bounce back from extreme storm events. From the hurricanes in the Southeast to the wildfires in the West, this year has seen tens of thousands of customers lose electricity due to severe weather events. Solar can help improve the resiliency of the grid immensely and is especially valuable for individual homeowners looking to ensure they still have power even when the grid goes dark.
And finally, at its core, solar is infrastructure – for your state, your utility, your neighborhood and for you as a property owner. It requires skilled labor to install and positively influences a number of adjacent industries, from steelworkers to roofers to electricians. Any bill that focuses on infrastructure will necessarily touch the solar industry at a number of different levels, hopefully continuing to positively contribute towards the growth of solar throughout the country.
You can join the solar movement today
EnergySage is committed to helping as many people as possible go solar. Our support for solar policies on the Hill is only a small piece of how EnergySage helps solar shoppers harness all of the benefits that solar has to offer. If you are interested in exploring solar options for your property, register for the EnergySage Marketplace to receive up to seven free quotes from local solar companies. Not yet ready to take the next step? Check out our Solar Calculator to see how much solar can shave off of your electric bills every month.