The economic outlook for solar power is better than ever. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panel prices have come down to historic lows, and federal and state programs are making it even more affordable to invest in solar now. The Midwest in particular is ripe for solar installations, with better solar intensity than both Germany and Japan, the world’s largest solar markets.
Solar power can bring good returns on investment by meeting our energy needs during times of “peak demand” for electricity, such as hot summer afternoons when the sun is shining and when people tend to be using a lot of electricity. When we use higher-than-average amounts of energy, utilities need to buy power on the open market at very expensive rates. Solar can help fill that gap so utilities use the open market less often, ultimately saving money for consumers.
Former industrial sites in the Midwest can be revitalized with “solar farms” hosting 10-20 megawatt projects, such as this plant on Chicago’s South Side. Locating solar plants on older industrial sites gives them unobstructed sunlight and low-cost access to the electrical grid.
Smaller-scale solar projects, such as residential or commercial rooftop projects, can also help lessen “peak demand” periods for utilities while bringing income to the homeowners and businesses that install the solar panels – including farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses, which can benefit from rural clean energy programs.
Both large and small solar projects bring jobs and economic development to the urban and rural communities where they are located. ELPC’s own supply chain reports show that more than 1,000 Midwest companies are supplying parts and services to the solar and wind industries.
What is ELPC Doing?
ELPC is working to ensure that we seize the opportunity to promote solar power across our region to create new jobs, spur economic growth and help address climate change. We are working with colleagues throughout the region to put in place the right policies to advance solar power development. Those policies include:
- Renewable Energy Standards (RES) that include “carve outs” requiring a certain percentage of a state’s energy to come from in-state solar power
- Financing mechanisms like net metering that make solar projects more affordable
- Municipal electricity contracts that maximize local solar opportunities
- Net metering and interconnection policies that help ensure customers with on-site solar installations are compensated fairly by utilities when their meter runs backward
ELPC helps design and advance these and other policies at the state level. Once adopted, we work with state utility commissions to design strong implementation rules, which are essential to realizing the policy’s intent. Our work includes expert policy analysis and testimony, as well as coordination with our clean energy and public health allies throughout the nation. Often times, some energy companies, utilities, or public utility commissions push back on efforts to expand solar opportunities that can decrease their profit margins.