Policies that encourage utilities to increase the amount of renewable energy on the grid coupled with procurement programs that facilitate or incentivize solar development can be strong tools for achieving solar scale. These programs include: incentives, tax credits, Renewable Portfolio Standards and procurement programs, including PURPA. With these policies, Vote Solar works to create conditions under which the solar industry can scale as it continues to lower costs and become increasingly competitive.

Sun tracking solar array

Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) is a 1978 federal law that requires utilities to buy renewables if they are cheaper than the avoided cost of conventional alternatives. It was created in the midst of the energy crisis and was intended to reduce dependence on foreign oil, diversify the electric power industry, and promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. As solar’s costs have come down, PURPA is continuing to drive gigawatts of clean energy development.

Utilities around the country are now trying to undermine PURPA by changing the way avoided costs are calculated, or changing the contract terms to something unfinanceable. We recently teamed up with Earthjustice to intervene in a PURPA case in Montana and will continue to work around the country to preserve solar development opportunities under PURPA.  

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs is an innovative finance tool that local governments can use to support green retrofits in their communities. PACE helps property owners overcome the upfront cost barrier of solar and energy efficiency improvements.

How Does PACE Work?

Cities set up special clean energy finance districts capable of issuing low-interest bonds. Participating homeowners can opt to use the bond money to pay for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, and then pay the lien back through a long-term assessment on their property taxes. This arrangement spreads the cost of a new solar energy system out across a 20-year payment plan that is easily transferable to the next property owner – a particular benefit to solar which can have longer payback periods. The cost of that assessment is typically less than the power bill savings generated by the improvements. It’s a budget-friendly way that cities can empower property-owners to invest in a local clean energy future.

Note this finance model can- and we believe should- be used to finance a host of technologies: solar PV systems, solar hot water systems, energy efficiency installations, and even water conservation upgrades.