Powering the sunny South with solar energy

The Southeast has enough sun to power our region

The sunny South has some of the greatest solar potential in the nation, yet solar energy is a vastly underutilized resource across our region. The Northeast — not known for its sunny weather — is outpacing the South on rooftop solar installations, while states like Alabama rank near the bottom nationally. Underinvestment in solar comes with an enormous opportunity cost. Of all the renewable energy resources available today, solar power has the greatest raw potential, the smallest environmental footprint, and a soaring number of jobs in an industry that’s growing at a rate 17 times faster than the overall U.S. economy. As long as the South remains behind the curve on solar, we’ll continue to lose jobs and economic development to other parts of the country. That’s why SELC’s solar initiative is working with partners in each state in the South to advance policies that unlock solar potential for our whole region.

There is so much more solar potential in our region. Regulatory and utility policies have an enormous impact on whether we reach that potential or not.

Lauren J. Bowen, senior attorney and leader of SELC’s solar power initiative

Why are utilities blocking access to solar?

Southern states have a lot to gain from solar power if utilities and local governments put fair policies in place. At the same time that solar energy has come down in price, many utilities are actually trying to make solar investments more expensive, often charging households and businesses punitive fees and blocking access to common sense financing. Most of our states currently have no policies to require utilities to use renewable energy like solar, and the greatest barriers could be remedied by state legislatures or regulatory bodies. Yet despite growing recognition of the environmental and economic benefits of solar, many electric utilities remain more interested in preserving their monopolies than in giving Southerners the freedom of solar choice. 

SELC is making solar accessible for all Southerners

We believe that the spread of solar energy is inevitable, but we’re pushing utilities, lawmakers, and state utility commissions to shorten the timeline so that Southerners can reap the benefits of solar faster and help slow the impact of climate change. Solar currently employs more American workers than methane gas and over twice as many as coal, representing enormous opportunity for job creation in a region with some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the nation. People in the South have disproportionately high energy burdens, meaning more of their income goes toward energy bills. Data and the work of countless advocates have shown that communities of color and households that earn low or fixed incomes are disproportionately exposed to pollution from fossil fuel emissions. Investments in solar energy are a matter of environmental justice, and it’s crucial that our region decarbonize as quickly as possible to make our energy system cleaner and more affordable.

SELC’s solar initiative focuses on removing barriers for renters and homeowners of all income levels to make solar accessible for all Southerners. From a former coal miner turned solar installer in Alabama to a family farmer in North Carolina, from a pastor in Georgia to high school students in Virginia, everyone has their own reasons for going solar. We’re working with partners on the ground and utility customers in each state in the South to advance policies that unlock solar potential for all.

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