Alaska is in a state of change - most strikingly evidenced by climate change and our economy. The economic recession- in part caused by and coupled with a decline in commodity pricing and generous tax structures - has lead to Alaskans leaving for new economic opportunities.
From 2015 through 2019, the Alaska solar industry has seen exponential growth and a historic number of grid-connected installations. From municipal buildings to commercial properties to residential rooftops and utility-scale solar generation facilities, Alaskans want clean energy and know that solar is an economically competitive energy source for our state. This year, Arctic Solar Ventures Corporation, a new type of business called a B corporation, has installed more than 900 kilowatts of grid-connected solar, including more than 100 homes and 18 commercial properties, while providing well-paying jobs to hard-working Alaskans. Overall, Arctic Solar Ventures now has more than one and a half megawatts of operating solar projects.
A large part of residential solar growth came from the Solarize Anchorage program, an outreach campaign of The Alaska Center. This program decreases the cost of solar by bundling purchase and installation costs among neighborhoods. Seventy-six homeowners from a single community council area recently invested in solar through the program. This community collectively removed 552 tons of C02 emissions, will save $75,620 on their utility bills and produced five new local jobs. Citywide, in one summer, this program doubled the number of residential solar installations in Anchorage.
If we create supportive and proactive policies and regulatory frameworks, then the state can benefit from a robust solar industry. This framework must provide certainty for contractors and customers that the growing clean energy economy will have stable and inclusive support.
Our federal delegation can ensure this new economic sector in Alaska continues to thrive by providing economic certainty through the proposed five-year extension to residential and business investment tax credits. Property owners have until December 31 to receive the existing 30% solar investment tax credit before it was scheduled to begin stepping down on a 5-year schedule. This tax credit was established in 2005 and has been successful across the nation to promote the adoption of solar energy. This has spurred a 10,000% increase in the solar industry, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, over that time. The solar tax credit makes solar more affordable for Alaskans and provides certainty to industry — a win-win.
Right here at home, our Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) and citizens supporting these proactive changes can play a role in providing certainty to the solar industry by waiving minimum monthly charge fees for solar owners. The RCA can increase the net-energy-metering cap from the current 1.5% (which will be reached soon) of average retail demand to 3% or beyond. Net energy metering regulation allows home and business owners to receive a credit for energy in excess of the energy that they use in their home or business. This program has become so popular that most utilities are scheduled to hit the net metering participation cap by 2020-2021 at current industry growth rates. Some utilities, like Homer Electric, have already increased their net metering cap to 3%.
Reducing the country’s and Alaska’s emissions while capitalizing on the clean energy economy creates jobs. Local, high wage jobs, that chart our path to the future. Companies that are powered by Alaskan innovation are bringing economic growth to Alaska, keeping Alaska beautiful in the same breath. Alaska solar means clean business for Alaska’s future. It’s energy that is good for our economy, planet and people.
Stephen Trimble is the founder and CEO of Arctic Solar Ventures, an Anchorage-based solar engineering, procurement and construction company. He is a lifelong Anchorage resident.
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