Midwest solar markets: An interview with Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher, Vice President, State Affairs of the Solar Energy Industries Association, sat down with pv magazine writer Mark Burger at SEIA’s Solar Midwest conference in Chicago on Thursday, October 19, and made the following comments on the opportunities and challenges for the Midwest U.S. solar market. Comments were edited for clarity.

 

pv magazine: What is the future of solar in the Midwest U.S.

Sean Gallagher: Our (member) companies are looking at the Midwest as emerging markets. And those markets have accelerated in states like Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio. Minnesota has a head start because of legislation enacted a few years ago. The state that people are really excited about is Illinois, because it could result in up to 3 GW of solar installations in the next 10 to 15 years. From a solar resource perspective, the Midwest looks a lot like the Northeast. As popularity increases and costs decrease, it can be a sustaining market for the U.S., if not as fast a growth market like California.

 

pv magazine: What is the impact of federal policy actions on Midwest?

Gallagher: The trade case will be felt nationwide and could impact marginal markets in the Midwest. The rule making proposal proposal by FERC is an unknown factor, but the rationale presented by Secretary Perry isn’t borne out by evidence in reliability.

 

pv magazine: What will be the impact of Midwest regulatory agencies and utilities on the utility scale and distributed solar markets?

Gallagher: There’s still variation (in approach) by regulators and utilities in the Midwest towards solar. Solar and renewable energy are not partisan issues. It is an economic one, a job creating one. Utilities in Indiana and elsewhere in the Midwest have embraced utility-scale solar. It can be deployed quickly and be cost competitive. In the long term market, for the Midwest, utilities will be seeking to replace aging power plants.

When it comes to distributive generation, utilities in the Midwest are not there yet. An example is Indiana Senate Bill 309, which restricted net metering, or fixed charge increases in Iowa and elsewhere. Utilities are concerned about the impact of distributed generation on their business model. They’re taking steps to slow down the move toward distributive solar. On the regulator side, there is a lot of interest out there, but it is tempered by utility concerns over distributed solar. People like solar and want solar. They approve of it in polls by 80-90% regardless of political affiliation. So we have to figure out how to give people what they really want.

 

pv magazine: What do you see is the impact of storage on the Midwest solar market?

Gallagher: Solar and storage will facilitate each other’s deployment. Solar has good alignment with peak demand in the Midwest. Storage will make it even better, especially behind the meter. It aligns with customer needs.