From the editor: State policy matters

It is very easy to get distracted by the dog-and-pony show of this presidential race, especially when one of the two main candidates dishonestly promises marginalized workers that he will resurrect the zombie coal industry.

And while there is plenty to be said about the presidential election, in my first editorial column for pv magazine USA I’d like to focus on state policies. Following extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit, the most urgent political battles that we have faced have been at the state, not the national level.

For evidence of this one needs to look no further than the recent proposed decision on valuation of distributed solar offered by Arizona regulators. While well-crafted value of solar methodologies have been worked out in Austin, Texas and Minnesota, it is hard to see the guidelines that Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) staff have put forward as something other than an underhanded attempt to disadvantage solar from an organization that is struggling with serious credibility issues.

Some of the parties who have labored through many a regulatory process at ACC appear to be backing candidates for that body, and I think the upcoming elections will be very important for restoring an ACC which is more responsive to the citizens of Arizona and one that looks less like a victim of regulatory capture by the utility industry.

But while engaging in the electoral process by supporting candidates is important and can be necessary, there is a lot of quiet work going on to get policies right regardless of who is running an administration or a state agency. There are a number of organizations that deserve credit for work in this regard, including by national advocates like Vote Solar, SEIA, Alliance for Solar Choice, state-level and regional organizations like CalSEIA, Northeast Clean Energy Council and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and our allies including Sierra Club, Environment America and others in the environmental movement. In fact, SEIA recently stated that state-level policy action will be a greater priority in 2017.

In terms of concrete developments, I will be the first to admit that I have been skeptical of the commitment by the administration of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) to act fairly and with vision on clean energy, given Baker’s decisions on transportation, gas pipelines and other issues which impact climate.

In this regard I have been pleasantly surprised. While the Baker Administration’s outline of a new solar policy to follow SREC-2 is still in very rough form, the first draft look mostly positive, and the decision by regulators to largely deny a request by utility National Grid to impose anti-solar rate structures showed integrity and good judgement.

Particularly interesting was Massachusetts’ Department of Public Utilities noting that there National Grid showed no evidence of a “cost shift” from solar customers to non-solar customers. This myth of a cost shift has been pushed by utilities nationwide, despite a plethora of studies which show that customer-sited solar is usually a benefit, not a cost, to other ratepayers.

Arizona regulators could learn a thing or two about good, unbiased regulation from Massachusetts. But this is not to say that the only important battles are in the Northeast and Arizona. There are important regulatory decisions being made across the nation. As one example, state regulatory decisions regarding PURPA have been damning for the solar industry in Idaho and Montana, though the fight over Montana’s decision continues.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but the importance of these state-level policies are such that even presidential candidates and other national political figures are getting in on the game, with Hillary Clinton and Al Gore denouncing Florida’s anti net-metering Amendment 1 at a rally.

That’s all for this week. Thank you for your attention to our work, and keep fighting the good fight – including at your local state capitol.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.