At the rate it’s going, Vermont will not meet its solar energy goals by 2025, according to an updated report.
The Solar Pathways Report is an update to the Vermont Solar Market Pathways report, which came out in December 2016. The original report was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by an award given to Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC). Norwich Technologies, a solar development company based in White River Junction, funded the updated report, which drew data from the Department of Public Service, Public Utility Commission, ISO-New England, and Renewable Energy Vermont.
The report’s lead author, David Hill, of Energy Futures Group, said in an interview Monday that the solar industry has shown, both nationally and at the state level, that it can grow. It can also grow fast enough to meet Vermont’s renewable energy goals, which call for 20% of the state’s power needs to be met with solar energy by 2025.
The study looks at the years between 2014 and 2019, said Hill. Solar capacity, that being the infrastructure installed, peaked in 2016 and has been declining over the past three years. He said this has been due to reductions and changes in federal and state incentives, which need to be stable and predictable for growth to occur.
According to the update, by the end of 2014 Vermont had a solar capacity of 82 megawatts of alternating current. That quadrupled over the next four and a half years to 335 megawatts.
Hill said the peak in capacity growth seen in 2016 was influenced by solar developers who expected the end of a federal tax credit program and were moving quickly to take advantage of them. The credit program ended up being extended, but was scheduled to drop-off again in 2019.
Vermont would have to reach one gigawatt of solar capacity by 2025 to meet its goal, according to the report. To do that, new installations would have to average out to about 100 megawatts per year. So far, no year has seen that much growth. In 2016, 75 megawatts were added. If growth continues at the pace it has seen in the past two years, according to the report, Vermont will fail to meet its 2025 goal by 50%.
Phil Allen, owner of Same Sun of Vermont, a solar development company based in Rutland City, said Tuesday that federal and state incentives have been declining. He said a residential solar array installed in 2014 is worth $8,774 more over a 10-year period than the same array installed in 2019. He said changing federal rules and reductions in federal tax credits have also been detrimental.
Green Mountain Power, whose service territory covers 78% of Vermont, is more optimistic about the rate of solar growth.
Kristin Kelly, a spokeswoman for GMP, said Tuesday that the utility has been seeing “tremendous” growth in solar development over the past few years, which it says can meet the state’s solar energy targets.
“We have seen a continuous rise in solar being connected in our service area,” she said.
She said the company’s records show there were less than 10,000 kilowatts installed in 2010, with 150,000 kilowatts installed by 2018. Kelly said these are from net-metering projects, and reflect 65% of the solar development within the company’s service territory.