Center for Model Policy Development brings unity to clean energy transition


With the undeniable momentum from last weeks’ RE+ 2023 trade show in Las Vegas, which boasted big names like Van Jones, Kal Penn, and Senator Jon Ossoff, a staggering 41,000 attendees, and a record number of exhibitors showcasing products, it would be understandable if you overlooked yet another pivotal moment signaling the continued maturation of the renewables industry.

On Tuesday of last week, the Solar and Storage Industries Institute (SI2), a non-profit research, policy analysis and education organization, launched the Center for Model Policy Development, a new effort to help harmonize state policymaking around barriers to clean energy deployment.

It’s important to remember that the growth and acceptance of renewable energy hasn’t been without its detractors. For years, fossil fuel and natural gas advocates have used a multi-pronged strategy to maintain their stranglehold on the energy market. They’ve lobbied to downplay the potential of renewables, funded campaigns that spread misinformation about their viability, and used their deep pockets to influence state policies that stymie the growth of clean energy. It’s an old playbook, familiar to any emerging industry facing resistance from entrenched interests. Now, however, the stakes are monumentally high. Our planet is at a tipping point, with extreme weather-induced disasters and avoidable grid shortfalls becoming an all-too-regular part of our news cycle. There’s an urgent need to transition to sustainable energy, and any delay not only jeopardizes our environment but also our collective future.

Given this backdrop, it’s all the more essential for the renewable energy sector to have a unified front, especially in policy matters. As the saying goes, “A house divided cannot stand,” and certainly not when faced with the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby and the pressing timeline of the climate crisis.

In the 1930s, Justice Brandeis in a dissent opinion helped popularize the idea that states should be laboratories of democracy. In his view, states should try novel experiments in policy making. These attempts have little risk to the rest of the country if they don’t work.

While state innovation has been a hallmark of American federalism, ,50 states developing their own approaches to solving every problem related to the clean energy transition is impractical and time consuming. It would also be a big headache for solar and storage firms.

As a former colleague of mine liked to say about the climate crisis “time is our least renewable resource.” To add more clean energy to the grid, we don’t have the luxury of waiting three to five years to see what approaches are going to work. And 50 different approaches will slow down deployment.

In response, the Institute’s new Center will propose different policies relevant to state and local governments and provide bill templates for consideration by state leaders. They are intended to be a resource for state-based renewables organizations, advocates for decarbonization, officials in Governor’s offices, and state legislators and their staff.

To be clear, based on unique geographical, political, and infrastructural nuances, each state’s journey to clean energy will exhibit certain distinct features. However, the templates offered by the Center are intended to provide a foundation, a starting point – facilitating state leaders and advocates to jump-start pivotal discussions. These documents can help inform the best ways to responsibly recycle solar panels at the end of their useful lives or encourage faster ways for local government to permit rooftop solar projects.

For example, our first model policy is intended to clarify the role of local governments in large-scale solar permitting. To encourage uniformity of permitting within a state, and to prevent local governments from establishing hundreds of different sets of requirements that slow down clean energy deployment, this model policy establishes baseline standards and processes, such as uniform set back requirements.

This first model policy recognizes that local governments have discretion to adopt their own conditions provided that whatever they finalize cannot be more restrictive than the state policy. Therefore, this model policy — to be adopted by state legislatures — is intended to enumerate the responsibilities of local governments, recommend timeframes for executing permits, and provide direction on other solar permitting matters.

Over the coming years, we intend to tackle other key issues like what happens to panels at the end of their useful lives, what environmentally responsible project decommissioning looks like, and what’s next for net metering.

The Center for Model Policy is intended to be a hub for partnership and collaboration, so feedback and suggestions are critical to its success. Periodically, the Center will make adjustments to the model policy documents to reflect comments by stakeholders in the field. The Center’s next model policy, following extensive peer review, will be unveiled in the coming months.

As we move forward, it’s imperative to remember the weight of the climate crisis we’re facing, and the role that renewables play in our collective response. The overwhelming presence and initiatives highlighted at the RE+ 2023 trade show serve as reminders of the solar and storage sector’s advancements and potential. Now, more than ever, we need unity and clarity in our approach. Our progress today will determine the world we leave behind, and with collaborative efforts, timely action, and a shared vision, we’re poised to set the stage for a sustainable future.

David Gahl, Center for Model Policy

David Gahl formerly served as SEIA’s Senior Director of State Policy, East where he worked on regulatory and legislative matters in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York and provided senior-level oversight on important cross-cutting solar policy issues across the Eastern states. Prior to joining SEIA, Dave worked at the Pace Energy and Climate Center at Pace University’s Law School, where he was deeply involved in New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision effort. Prior to Pace, David held various positions at Environmental Advocates of New York, New York State’s leading environmental advocacy organization, the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

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

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