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Trump Country home to newest US solar growth region

US solar

US solar markets in flyover states are expanding as costs come down and government subsidies continue. SolarPowerRocks.com photo.

Eight of 10 fastest growing US solar markets in states that voted for Trump

The US solar market in the Western, Midwestern or Southern states is booming, thanks to falling development costs, some government subsidies and in spite of President Donald Trump’s vow to revive the coal industry.

Eight of the 10 areas with the fastest growth in solar use are in states that voted for President Trump. Alabama and Mississippi topped the list.

Solar power expansion in these areas is offsetting slowing growth in more mature markets like California and the Northeast.

President Trump has been skeptical about the viability of solar and wind, calling them both “very, very expensive”, but he has not called for the repeal of government incentives for the use of renewable energy.

Solar companies are optimistic that key renewable energy subsidies will continue for years to come and are increasing their investments in so-called “flyover” states.

These incentives and the drop in costs are major factors driving conservative states to shift to renewable energy.

“Climate change has never come up in any discussion about why we would do a project,” Matt Beasley, chief marketing officer for Silicon Ranch Corp told Reuters. “It is always about the economics.”

In a report by asset management firm Lazard, the estimated costs of solar power generation plummeted 85 per cent since 2009.  Even unsubsidized, solar power is cost competitive with natural gas in the sunniest areas.

Despite this, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has recently called for new rules which will subsidize coal and nuclear energy.  Perry says the rise of renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar, make the grid less reliable.

Scott Pruitt, chief of the EPA said in a speech in Kentucky that he will get rid of incentives for renewable energy companies and leave them to “stand on their own”.  However, the decision is up to Congress.

According to Reuters, the White House did not respond to a request for comment and clarification concerning the Trump administration’s position on solar subsidies.

But other Republicans have been outspoken supporters of the incentives, which include $12.3 billion in tax breaks between 2016 and 2020.  The pro-solar Republicans argue economics ahead of the environment.

North Carolina Senator Richard Burr told Reuters “The expansion of solar and other clean technologies has created thousands of jobs and reduced emissions.“ He added ”Once these technologies have reached a competitive position in the energy market, a gradual reduction in incentives is an appropriate way to approach their sustained growth.”

Government data shows that nationwide, solar and wind energy firms employ about 300,000 people, about six times the number of workers in the coal industry.

Earlier this year, Reuters surveyed 32 utilities running operations in politically conservative states.  Overwhelmingly, they rejected investing new money in coal-fired power, despite Trump’s pro-coal agenda.  The companies say falling costs associated with renewable energy is one of the factors.

GroSolar, a Vermont-based renewable energy company, just opened an office in Minnesota.  The company, a subsidiary of France’s EDF, says the Midwest is its “number one priority” for future development.

As well, electric cooperatives are the target for some US solar companies.  Co-ops are non-for-profit utilities that are owned by their customers.

Solar capacity at electric co-ops has tripled in the last three years, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Some solar companies are flocking to the Midwest because of cheaper real estate on wide open land and more relaxed permitting for installations, according to Silicon Ranch Co-founder Reagan Farr.

“The math works quite well,” he told Reuters.

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