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Solar outlook is brighter than everPrint

Clean Energy | March 1, 2016 | By Hans Voss

Solar outlook is brighter than ever

With the solar industry taking off across the country and Congress extending a big, game-changing solar “discount” now is the perfect time to go solar. Putting a solar system on your home or business is more affordable than ever.

The cost of solar power in the U.S has dropped 73 percent since 2006. That extraordinary progress is triggering a solar installation explosion. In the first half of 2015, for example, solar power accounted for an astounding 40 percent of new, American electric generation.

Technology and federal incentives are both helping. Today’s solar panels generate more power than they did three years ago, for about the same price; while the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows home and business owners to deduct 30% of the costs of the installed system from their federal income taxes.

The ITC incentive, first established in 2006, was a major driver of solar’s market growth, which led directly to the remarkable price reductions we’re seeing. It would have expired on Dec. 31, which  worried solar advocates.  But on the last day of the 2015 Congressional session, Congress quietly reached a deal: a five-year extension of the ITC and the  termination of the 40-year ban on exporting domestic crude oil.

While the solar industry cheered, opening overseas markets to American oil drew strong criticism from Bill McKibben of 350.org and other climate advocates who pointed out the irony of how the move to expand oil production was passed just days after the Paris climate talks set new global carbon limits.

But the compromise gave pro-oil lawmakers the cover they needed to support the solar deal; even Congressional climate deniers couldn’t ignore the fact that solar power, and solar incentives, are working very well—as they have for virtually every American energy source over the decades. Coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear all continue to receive tax breaks—ones that helped them grow and working on cutting their own, internal costs.  

How well is the ITC working? Today the solar industry employs over 200,000 people; it added 35,000 in 2015 alone. That’s 20% annual job growth; meanwhile  the overall national employment growth stands at 1.7%. In fact, the solar industry now employs more people than the oil and gas extraction industry, which employs 187,000 people.

All of this is good news for northwest Michigan, which is emerging as a leader in Michigan’s clean energy scene. Our region was the first in the state to establish a community solar program. High profile destinations like Short’s Brewing Company and Chateau Chantal are now making their popular libations from the power of the sun. Last year, Traverse Heights Elementary emerged as the first school in the region to go solar. And, now, as the price of solar systems fall and the federal tax discount continues, the region is in a great position to move forward.

Whether you are motivated by the economics of keeping energy dollars local and helping to grow jobs in the local economy, or you are inspired by the environmental and public health benefits of supporting clean air and climate solutions, your solar outlook couldn’t be brighter. 

Hans Voss is the Executive Director of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. He can be reached at hans@groundworkcenter.org