Colorado ranks eighth in the nation in solar power usage, according to a new report.
The report, released Tuesday by the Colorado Research and Policy Center, named Colorado as one of a dozen states leading the nation in solar energy with supportive policies and a commitment to continued expansion.
The other states profiled in the report are Arizona, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont.
While the 12 states account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population, they are home to 85 percent of the nation’s installed solar energy infrastructure, according to the report.
“In Colorado we are so fortunate because we have sunshine in our state an average of 300 days of the year, so we have a huge opportunity for solar energy,” said Jen Schenk, the executive director of Summit County’s High Country Conservation Center.
The report emphasized that it is not only the availability of sunlight that makes a state a solar energy leader, but also the degree to which state and local governments have created effective policy for the development of the industry.
One policy that has encouraged homeowners and businesses to go solar is net metering, which allows customers to offset their electricity bills with on-site solar, and to be compensated for any additional electricity they provide to the grid.
Michelle Zimmerman, vice president of operations for Innovative Energy in Breckenridge, said regulations allowing individuals to input power into the grid created a big shift toward solar energy in Colorado.
“That made solar available to the masses,” she said. “Anyone who is on the utility line is now able to tie in with the system.”
Colorado is also one of the top states for solar because of renewable electricity standards that require utilities to provide a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources, the report said.
In addition, creative financing options encourage the use of solar power, the report said.
HC3’s Schenk said expanded financing options are opening new doors for individuals to invest in solar in Summit County.
“Many of the solar installers now have lease options with low interest rates, so that is making the up-front cost of solar less of a hurdle,” she said.
Zimmerman said Innovative Energy’s panel distributors offer financing rates as low as 2.99 percent with unsecured loans and terms from five to 12 years.
“That has been a great opportunity to bring solar to more customers,” she said.
Schenk said community solar projects are also making renewable energy a more viable option for middle-class Summit County residents.
“I think we’ve seen a really strong interest from high-end homeowners and second homeowners to install solar panels on their roof,” Schenk said. “With the advent of the new solar gardens in Breckenridge, solar has become more affordable and accessible for people who can’t put it on their roof.”
Zimmerman and Schenk said they’d like to see more reliable incentives for individuals and business owners to even the playing field for anyone interested in investing in solar energy. They said technological advances in solar and lower installation prices have contributed to a local boon in renewable energy. However, financial incentives offered by local utilities have decreased.
“It’s great that Xcel offers net metering and financial incentives, but it’s also difficult because those incentives tend to come and go,” Zimmerman said. “Moving forward, what I think everyone would love to see is a nationwide energy rebate.”
Solar is on the rise across the country, according to the latest report released by Environment Colorado. America has more than three times the solar photovoltaic capacity it had in 2010, and more than 10 times what it had in 2007.