Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Solar Legislation* (*Ask CSU)


If you want to know the status of California's proposed net metering legislation, what happened to Maryland's Solar Energy Grant Program or whether Arkansas is considering tax breaks for photovoltaics manufacturers, Colorado State University (CSU) has the database for you.

In May, CSU's Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) announced the rollout of its Advanced Energy Legislation (AEL) Tracker, an online database of energy-related state legislation pending in all 50 states. The database contains information about more than 2,200 bills that were introduced in the 2013 legislative sessions and monitors the progress of each bill.
‘Some pre-existing databases have looked at legislation that has been passed,’ says Jeff Lyng, senior policy advisor for CNEE. ‘This data set is for the current session. A lot of the advanced energy legislation will not make it to that respective governor's desk.’

In some states, the legislative session has ended, but others continue until the summer or fall. The AEL Tracker is searchable by state, policy and keyword. A user can click on several states or all states, then choose a topic such as ‘Economic Development,’ ‘Electricity Generation,’ ‘Financing’ and others.

For example, if someone wanted to see how many bills included anything solar-related, they would find more than 300. The user could narrow the choices by state – New York, for example, has 52 pending bills that include ‘solar’ somewhere in the bill text – and by policy.

Lyng says various groups find the website useful. ‘The industry loves it because it helps them dig in and really research their respective market sectors,’ he says. ‘The advocacy community can look at what's being proposed and what types of policy some of the states are advancing.’

He adds that lobbying organizations probably have their own database tools, but they can use this one as a backstop.

The media has also taken an interest in the database, Lyng says. ‘The energy beat can be difficult to follow. If you were interested in looking at solar policy around the country, you would have to search 50 different legislative Web pages, all with different degrees of usability,’ he notes.
CNEE wants to do more than provide a list of pending bills. The AEL Tracker also offers ‘Trends and Analysis’ – white papers that the group will release at a rate of two or three per month.

The first analysis, ‘Rediscovering the First Fuel,’ covers energy efficiency trends. In May, there were 130 energy efficiency bills pending nationwide, and the majority of states considering energy efficiency legislation were ranked in the top half of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy State Scorecard. The report indicates that this might reflect a larger trend, ‘a growing disparity between those states moving forward on energy efficiency legislation and those lagging behind.’ Many of the bills were lead-by-example bills, in which state governments would reduce energy consumption in their own facilities.

The second white paper, ‘Addressing the Upfront Cost Barrier,’ looks at finance trends. Nearly 25% of the pending state energy legislation, or 550 bills, call for new financing tools for the installation of energy generation, transmission and pipelines. More than half, or 297 bills, call for tax incentives, and the majority of those emphasize solar technologies. The next largest financial category, loans and grants, accounts for 100 bills.

A team of CSU graduate students updates the AEL Tracker daily. The project is funded by Advanced Energy Economy, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association for clean energy companies. The group has partners in several states engaging in political advocacy, such as making sure renewable portfolio standards do not get rolled back.

‘States clearly are the leaders,’ Lyng says. ‘To know what states are doing is a way to know what the nation is doing.’

CSU launched its Center for the New Energy Economy in 2011, and the center is led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelance writer.

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