The Construction Advantage, Earth, Wind & Shine: Recent Solar and Wind Legislation [i]
By: Asha Echeverria
In 2019, several U.S. states, including Maine, passed legislation promoting the development and construction of renewable energy projects. Here in Maine, development and construction of renewable projects, especially solar projects spurred by recent legislation, has continued through the pandemic.
- Maine: Maine’s Governor Janet Mills (D) recently signed two laws affecting solar energy and net metering in the state. Effective in April, state Legislative Document (L.D.) 91 permits homeowners to feed excess solar electricity onto the grid to receive a credit equal to what they would pay to buy that electricity. The law also repealed the requirement that solar powered homes and businesses have a second meter installed to monitor output of solar panels. L.D. 1711 increases distributed solar generation opportunities by enabling 250 MW of larger-scale community solar farms in less than five years, requiring 10% of community solar farms to serve low- or moderate-income households, lifting the nine-person limit on community solar, and enabling 125 MW of large-scale solar arrays to serve a single municipal, commercial, or industrial consumer.
- Illinois: On April 19th, Governor JB Pritzker (D) signed state House Bill 2988 into law. The law clarifies zoning standards for wind energy development within the state, limiting the power of counties and municipalities to establish their own standards for wind farm development. Townships will no longer have zoning authority over wind farm development. The law also creates a 1.5-mile buffer zone outside the zoning jurisdiction of a municipality. The law was a reaction to the actions of two townships in Douglas County that enacted zoning regulations that were stricter than the county’s regulations, in an effort to thwart construction of a particular grid-scale wind farm development.
- Maryland: State Senate Bill 516, the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019, went into effect in May 2019 without the signature of Governor Larry Hogan (R). The Act increases the state’s renewable electricity standard to 50% of the total grid by 2030. In addition, the law expands the state offshore wind capacity to 1,200 MW, up from 370MW. Governor Hogan did not sign the Act, saying that it did not create enough jobs within the state. According to a letter to state Senate President, the Governor stated that in the next legislative session he would propose his own energy strategy to move Maryland toward 100% clean electricity by 2040.
- Nevada: Nevada’s Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 358 so that Governor Steve Sisolak (D) could sign the bill into law on April 22nd, Earth Day. The new law sets the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to require electricity producers to buy or generate a minimum of 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2030. The law also sets a goal of zero carbon emissions from energy producers by 2050. Currently only about 20% of electricity generated in Nevada comes from renewables.
- New Mexico: On March 22nd, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) executed the Energy Transition Act, Senate Bill 489, to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The law commits New Mexico to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Renewable energy requirements are phased in, with 50% renewable energy required by 2030, 80% by 2040, and 100% by 2045 for utility companies. Cooperative Utilities must be 100% renewable by 2050 if technically possible, will not hurt grid reliability, and will not make electricity unaffordable. The bill also requires the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds/MWh, something a standard coal plant cannot achieve.
- New York: In July, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, S6599, intended to mitigate the effects of climate change by drastically cutting greenhouse gases and diverting the state to renewable energy sources. The law commits the state to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors of the economy, including electricity and fuels that are imported from other states. The law requires 40% emissions reductions in absolute terms from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% reduction by 2050. As to electricity, 70% of the state’s electricity must come from renewable energy by 2030 and 100% of the state’s electricity supply must be emissions free by 2040. The law also creates a Climate Action Council to develop and propose strategies for attaining drastic decarbonization of the state’s economy.
- Puerto Rico: The Energy Pubic Policy Act, Senate Bill 1121, was signed into law by New Progressive Party Governor Ricardo Rossello on April 11, 2019. The law requires the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to source 40% of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and to stop burning coal by 2028. The law sets a final goal of 100% renewable energy use by 2050. The new law also allows automatic interconnection of residential photovoltaic systems below 25kW to the grid and a reduction in utility approval time for commercial and industrial solar projects to 90 days. Finally, the law mandates that solar energy users will have access to net metering within one month of system installation and that new solar consumers will be grandfathered and protected from future policy changes for the next 20 years.
- South Dakota: On March 19th, Governor Kristi Noem (R) signed into law Senate Bill 15, which clarifies the state’s Public Utility Commission’s authority to expedite permit applications for solar and wind energy projects to a nine-month process, with public safety in mind. The law not only reduces unnecessary regulatory hurdles and provides increased certainty for wind and solar projects in the state, but also helps the PUC manage its docket by avoiding regulatory redundancy with local governments. “Most importantly it provides additional time for citizens to be involved in the PUC wind farm permitting cases,” according to South Dakota PUC Vice Chairman Chris Nelson. Senate Bill 15 was a compromise that passed after Governor Noem vetoed its predecessor, Senate Bill 14, which sought a twelve-month window for the permit process.
- Washington: State Senate Bill 5116 was enacted on April 11th by Governor Jay Inslee (D), requiring the state to power 100% of its electricity from “carbon free” sources by 2045 and for all electricity sales to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Senate Bill 5116 sets a 2025 deadline for utilities to end reliance on coal and a 2045 deadline to end use of natural-gas-generated electricity, as long as electricity can remain affordable and reliability of the electrical grid will not be jeopardized. The state’s actions will be felt beyond its borders as a considerable amount of Washington State’s fossil fuel power comes from its neighbors, particularly Montana.
[i] The original version of this article appeared in the The Construction Lawyer, Journal of the ABA Forum on Construction Law Volume 40, Number 1, Winter 2020 and was co-edited by Brian R. Zimmerman, a shareholder at Hurtado Zimmerman S.C. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin