With our current economic downturn and loss of jobs, it’s important that Wyoming consider what it can do to assist the growth of new economies and capitalize on our state’s natural assets. The Cowboy State’s solar rays have the eighth greatest energy potential in the nation, but we rank 45th nationally in our installed solar capacity and 43rd in jobs per capita.
Although California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey and Nevada top the list for solar market development, it is instructive for us to look across our southern border for a glimpse of the solar market possibilities of a Rocky Mountain state with prominent energy, ranching and tourism economies.
In Colorado, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are 438 businesses working in some sector of the solar industry; from manufacturing, to engineering to solar installation. In 2015 alone, $305 million was invested in Colorado solar installations. Over the next five years, Colorado is expected to quadruple its solar by installing 1,738 megawatts of solar electric capacity.
Here in Wyoming it’s a different story. We have only a few dozen people employed in solar as compared to 5,000 in Colorado. Compared to Colorado’s 504 megawatts of installed solar power, Wyoming now has about 1.8 megawatts. An expansion of our renewable energy workforce could provide welcome relief to the families and towns suffering from job losses in our traditional energy sectors.
New solar jobs will arise and solar investment will occur in Wyoming when we have a regulatory framework that allows markets to thrive. State-level decisions by legislators, the Wyoming Public Service Commission, our electric utilities and our voters, can create a more welcoming environment for development and a lasting demand for solar-generated energy and all of its related jobs.
One reason Wyoming has fallen behind is that our solar net metering rule is antiquated. An update — especially to the cap on the size of solar projects — will help to remove barriers from solar project development. Improvements in the law will help agricultural, small commercial and residential users and pave the way for larger projects such as community solar gardens.
Please let your legislators and other state officials know that the time has come to update Wyoming’s solar regulations and help fuel the diversification of Wyoming’s economy.
The above was submitted as an op-ed to the Casper Star-Tribune by Scott Kane. Scott has worked in the solar industry for 15 years. He is the co-owner of Creative Energies, a Lander-based solar energy systems provider.