Vermont may be the second-least-populous state in the nation, but the small state has been a leader in the transition to renewable energy. In 2015, Vermont passed the nation’s second-most ambitious renewable energy mandate of 75% by 2032, and over the first 11 months of 2017 the state got 4.5% of its electricity from solar and another 5% from wind.
However, significant headwinds have developed for Vermont’s solar market. The volume of solar deployed in the state fell 50% in 2017 to slightly more than 30 MW, which Renewable Energy Vermont blames on changes to the state’s net metering policy a year ago.
Accompanying the decline in installations, The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census shows that the state lost 232 solar jobs between November 2016 and November 2017. And while the U.S. solar industry lost jobs overall, mostly due to the “hangover” from a policy-driven boom in 2016, Vermont’s 13% decline was more than three times steeper as the national average.
In rural Vermont, such issues are framed in terms of self-sufficiency. After the closure of the state’s sole nuclear power plant in 2016, Vermont has been importing more electricity from its neighbors, including Canada.
“Vermonters should have the right to produce local, clean energy for themselves – and any further drop in the state’s solar rates will jeopardize that,” said Nils Behn of solar installer Aegis Renewables. “We should be working hard to keep every energy dollar we can in Vermont, not cutting those jobs in favor of out of state or foreign energy.”
Renewable Energy Vermont has also expressed concern about the 30% import duties on imported solar imposed by the Trump Administration, particularly as regards community solar. This sector was the most affected by the changes to net metering, and the organization says that the tariff will make matters worse.
“We are at a crossroads where we need to make decisions as to the type of Vermont we want to embrace,” said Dan Kinney of local installer Catamount Solar. “Understand that a dollar towards local energy generation is a dollar that lifts all boats.”
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