Delaware ranked seventh in nation for solar energy

Delaware is again among the states leading the nation in solar energy — ranked seventh per capita for cumulative solar installations, according to a report released this week by Environment America Research & Policy Center, “Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013.”

The report attributed Delaware’s leadership, energy legislation, strong public policies and innovative financing options for the solar boom in the state.

“Encouraging solar power is the right thing to do for the environment and our economy,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “We are aggressively working toward a clean energy future in Delaware, demonstrating we can have both a strong economy and a healthy environment. That means creating a robust market for solar and other clean energy systems, creating clean energy jobs, expanding our solar industry and improving air quality.”

According to the report, solar energy has tripled nationwide between 2011 and 2013. The price of solar energy is falling rapidly, and more and more Americans are reaping the benefits of solar’s clean, sustainable, locally-generated power.

Since December 2008, the state’s solar capacity has grown from 2 megawatts to 59 megawatts. During that time, 1,600 solar energy systems have been installed on government buildings, businesses, schools and homes in Delaware. In the past 12 months alone, Delaware has installed 256 solar systems totaling nearly 11 megawatts.

“Working closely with the local solar industry, Delaware has emerged as a national leader in solar energy by adopting progressive policies and programs that have led to a 29-fold increase in new solar installations since 2008,” said DNREC Secretary David Small. “Delaware’s commitment to solar energy is paying dividends in terms of cleaner energy, lower costs and new jobs for Delawareans.”

In the report, Delaware was cited with other states for cutting-edge energy legislation and policies that are among the most aggressive in the country. Delaware’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that 25 percent of the state’s electricity is to come from renewable energy sources by 2025, and the solar carve-out of 3.5 percent from solar by 2025, are creating vigorous markets for solar energy officials said.

The state’s net metering and interconnection policies, which allow customers to sell excess solar power back to the grid, are considered among the most progressive in the country, they noted. Though Markell’s Executive Order 18, state government is leading by example by procuring 1 percent of its electricity procurement from in-state solar energy, while bringing down the overall cost of power for state agencies.

Officials also noted that Delaware has been innovative in the use of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) by utilities to meet their obligation to obtain a portion of their electricity from solar power. Working closely with the State’s Renewable Energy Task Force and Delmarva Power and Light, Delaware’s Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) has helped create a stable market for new solar power projects in Delaware by conducting auctions for long term SREC contracts on behalf of Delmarva Power, they said. Delmarva Power buys most of its SRECs through this long-term contracting mechanism, which makes it easier to finance new projects of all sizes.

As a result of competition and market efficiencies, installation costs and corresponding SREC prices have fallen sharply over the last two years, which means much lower compliance costs for ratepayers.

“These policies and programs are helping Delawareans take advantage of the 30 percent federal investment tax credit for solar PV installations on residential and commercial properties.”

Environment America’s report recognized Delaware as offering financial incentives that are encouraging businesses and homeowners to “go solar.” Since 2002 Delaware’s Green Energy Program has funded almost $17 million in solar rebates for systems for homeowners, small businesses, schools and non-profit agencies.

Also this week, DNREC, in conjunction with the SEU, launched a new Joint Green Energy Program in which the SEU will contribute $1.5 million annually for two years to purchase SRECs up front from the installation of residential solar systems. The SEU’s purchasing of SRECs is expected to have a stabilizing effect on SREC values, which in turn is expected to have a positive impact on the solar community in Delaware.

Through the federal Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant program, 15 of the state’s towns, including Newport, Bowers Beach and Ellendale, installed solar power systems on their municipal buildings.

The Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation, a wholesale electric utility, and its nine member municipalities, have collectively invested in Delaware’s largest PV facilities — the Milford Solar Farm, generating more than 13 megawatts, and the 10-megawatt Dover Sun Park. Wilmington, Dover, and Kent and New Castle county governments have installed solar power on their office and public works facilities.

The City of Newark currently has a 230 kW, 900-panel solar array under construction on a 3.91-acre former Brownfields site, which is expected to go online by this fall and produce enough electricity to power approximately 26 to 36 homes, depending on the season.

Newark’s behind-the-meter renewable power source will serve the city’s residents by reducing peak power demand, lowering the wholesale cost of power, generating solar renewable energy credits, bringing locally produced green energy to the city’s electric users, and reducing the city’s carbon footprint. In addition, construction will be handled by Solair, a Delaware company.

Another large solar project, the Delaware Electric Cooperative’s Bruce A. Henry Solar Energy Farm near Georgetown, was completed last summer. The $14 million, 20-acre facility uses 16,000 solar panels to produce 4 megawatts of energy, enough to power 500 rural Sussex homes. Estimates call for the solar farm to prevent more than 12 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the air during its first year of operation — the equivalent of taking more than 1,200 cars off the road. The facility has the option to expand to 40 acres, with the ability to produce power for 1,000 homes.

More good news about solar energy in Delaware appears in the Solar Energy Power Association’s June report, “Solar Market Comes of Age in 2013.” SEPA, which is the solar community’s national organization, has ranked the cities of Milford and Dover first and seventh, respectively, in the nation for public power cumulative solar watts per customer. In addition, under investor-owned utilities and cooperatives, Milford continues to lead the nation.

SEPA’s report also recognized the City of Lewes as 10th in the nation for solar penetration, as well as naming the Delaware Electric Cooperative in the top 10 in four solar-related categories.