Top 10 solar states: What are they doing right?

Last week the New York Times published an interesting story about the rise in solar installations throughout New Jersey neighborhoods. What makes New Jersey so unique? Its increase in solar capacity has been solely propelled by its Clean Energy Program, which offers financial incentives, programs, and services to residents and businesses for clean-energy initiatives.

In mid-April, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced that New Jersey’s solar capacity will surpass 300 MW. In fact, the amount of solar capacity installed in New Jersey in 2010 alone exceed the total amount of solar capacity installed in the state since 2001.

It’s an interesting study in the development and success of solar energy, from public support to Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) for utility companies. And New Jersey doesn’t show any sings of slowing down: The state plans to increase its capacity to 368 MW by next year.

Of course, New Jersey has a long way to catch up to California, which is number one in the country for solar energy. And states that make the top 10 list for solar capacity are a disparate bunch, with North Carolina ranking at No. 10, with only 42 MW of solar capacity.

The list, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association:

1. California: 47 percent with 971 megawatts

2. New Jersey: 14 percent with 293 MW

3. Colorado: 5 percent with 108 MW

4. Arizona: 5 percent with 101 MW

5. Nevada: 5 percent with 97 MW

6. Florida: 4 percent with 73 MW

7. New York: 3 percent with 54 MW

8. Pennsylvania: 3 percent with 54 MW

9. New Mexico: 2 percent with 45 MW

10. North Carolina: 2 percent with 42 MW

The states that are leading, however, all have government programs and incentives in place that are pushing renewable energy. Arizona, for example, offers numerous state incentives, such as property and sales tax exemptions and tax credits.

And North Carolina, which runs a distant 10th place to California, offers similar loans and incentives.

In states across the country, grassroots efforts continue to call for more solar investments. Today, 31 states offer state loans for solar projects, including Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, and 18 states have a Solar Electricity Standard. Pennsylvania, for example, has standard of .5 percent by 2020, while Nevada has a 5 percent standard by 2025.

However plenty of organizations throughout the Midwest say not enough is being done to increase solar capacity. In Minnesota, for example, only 3 MW come from solar energy, or enough to supply electricity to about 800 homes. Minnesota is far behind the rest of the country, but a new initiative called Solar Works for Minnesota would increase Minnesota’s solar capacity to 5,200 MW over the next 10 years.

Last week, state Sen. Scott Dibble introduced a bill that, if passed and signed by Governor Dayton, would increase Minnesota’s solar capacity by .1 percent by 2012, and 10 percent by 2030.

What happens with the bill remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Governor Mark Dayton’s schedule has been filled with meetings over the last few weeks highlighting the need for solar energy and job creation in Minnesota.

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