Politics and Solar Energy: Getting Beyond the Economics of Solar Deployment

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Solar energy is the fastest-growing source of energy in America by deployment. For states, the benefits of solar energy include reaching ambitious renewable energy goals, lowering the costs of electricity generation, reducing electricity sector pollution, and increasing resiliency through distributed generation resources. The growth of solar energy has not occurred universally across states, and many states with substantial potential for solar energy currently have little solar energy deployed while others with less potential have deployed a lot. While the levels of solar irradiance and the economics of solar within a state influence the deployment of solar, state-level solar energy policies have also played an important role in transforming the potential of solar energy resources within a state into solar energy generation. To examine state-level policies, I researched the solar story in six states (Arizona, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and North Carolina) with high levels of solar deployment, identifying significant policies and analyzing the political circumstances associated with these policies.

While researching two or more significant policies and associated political circumstances in each state, five trends emerged regarding state solar energy policy. (A) Nearly all policies examined were sponsored by Democrats, with most sponsors having leadership positions. (B) Policies associated with longer-term stability in the solar market were packaged with several related electricity sector measures to draw support from a wider coalition of stakeholders. (C) The primary policy mechanisms in the examined policies include net metering rules, renewable portfolio standards, and investment tax credits. (D) The demonstrated competence and political alignment of a state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) seems to play a role in how much responsibility a state legislature delegates to the PUC in solar legislation. (E) Solar energy policy framing often focuses not just on the environment but on energy independence, national leadership, and economic security. States hoping to encourage the growth of solar energy should utilize the analysis from Trends C, D, and E regarding what policies and framing to use and the analysis from Trends A and B regarding what political circumstances allow solar policies to succeed.





Polonsky, Peter Jr (2019). Politics and Solar Energy: Getting Beyond the Economics of Solar Deployment. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/19893.

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