The Best and Worst States for Rooftop Solar Panels

A new report tracks where consumers will get the most out of renewable installations.

Image AP Photo/Matt York
AP Photo/Matt York

If you’re going to install solar panels on your roof, you’ll want to know what it will cost and how much money you can save. The answers to those questions depend on two more complicated criteria: How difficult is it to connect to the energy grid, and how will you be compensated for the electricity your panels produce? Luckily for the solar pioneer, a newly updated report grades each state on its answers to these questions.

The “Freeing the Grid” scorecard, released Monday by the nonprofit Interstate Renewable Energy Council, serves as a handy tracker for the growth of policies that promote “net metering” (which compensates homegrown energy producers for the surplus electricity they pump back into the grid) and “interconnection” (which is the technical term for the logistics involved in actually hooking up a renewable energy project to the grid). The trend is decidedly positive. The number of states with A grades for net metering has more than tripled since tracking began in 2007. That year, no states got A’s for interconnection; now 10 do, though 16 received F’s.

If you‘re mulling a rooftop solar installation (or any other kind of renewable energy project), it’s worth playing around with the report’s map. It grades on just two major criteria, but it gives a quick sense of how much of a headache to expect from the regulatory process in a given state, and how much you’ll benefit from the energy you produce.

Here’s a quick take: if you live in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, or Tennessee, you probably want to wait for some legislative reform, because these states score F’s on both counts. If you’re a resident of California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, or Utah, though, full speed ahead: they’ve earned double aces.

The interconnection map shows more room for improvement than net metering. Many states don’t have any interconnection policy, which leads to a failing grade. (IREC / Vote Solar)

Interestingly, states with a strong net metering policy don’t always match it with interconnection plans. That may be because interconnection procedures often fly under the radar—they’re “really not sexy,” says Sara Baldwin Auck, regulatory director at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

“A lot of times, what happens is policymakers have the best intentions and they want to enable a market, so they put forward the standard policy package, and net metering is one of those market-enabling factors,” says Auck. “They aren’t aware how fundamentally critical interconnection is to that market.”

That would be akin to a state encouraging people to start driving but not figuring out a uniform, transparent, and straightforward system for approving and distributing driver’s licenses. It gums up the workings of an otherwise viable program.

“We’d like to see states adopt policies that do not conjure images of the DMV and the experience of sitting idly for hours at a time to get your license,” Auck says.

About the Author

  • Julian Spector is an editorial fellow at CityLab, where he covers climate change, energy, and clean tech.