The solar industry is growing fast, partly because costs of installation are falling across the nation with each new investment.

Another home or business goes solar in the United States every 2.5 minutes. Since 2010 alone, prices have fallen by 46 percent.

That rapid growth is being felt here in Maine, where 3.5 megawatts of solar capacity were installed in Maine in 2014, a 43 percent increase over a single year.

Even sunnier news: Solar energy is poised to play a major role in Maine’s transition to a cleaner future. That’s exactly why we need the Clean Power Plan, which was released last month by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan is the biggest step on climate change the country has ever taken. These new standards will cut carbon pollution from dirty coal, gas and oil power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. The plan allows flexibility for states to cut emissions how they choose, but rewards states that choose to invest in renewables.

“Solar works in all 50 states, has zero carbon emissions, creates more jobs per megawatt than any other technology and can be deployed cost-effectively and quickly — all while improving grid reliability,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group, after release of the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan builds on the momentum that Maine’s businesses, communities and individuals already have built through their investments in solar.

On Earth Day this past April, the sun shone on Maine’s first community solar farm in South Paris. Community solar farms offer more Mainers the opportunity to get in on the solar boom while saving on their electricity bills. Community solar farms reach the 85 percent of customers who aren’t able to invest in solar because their properties are unsuitable. On Aug. 12, another community solar farm opened in Edgecomb.

As we rely less and less on polluting coal and gas plants, Mainers have the opportunity to become energy independent through investing in solar. The No. 1 obstacle is the will of decision-makers.

Behind California, Massachusetts employs the second-most workers in the solar industry. Maine is ranked 43rd, with just more than 400 jobs at 43 companies. The reason for the discrepancy between Maine and Massachusetts lies with the fact that Maine is the only state in New England without a solar development policy.

At the same time, federal tax credits for solar investments are scheduled to expire by the end of 2016. Potential projects would be left in flux as costs will rise if the credits are allowed to expire.

That’s why Maine Solar Solutions has joined more than 670 installers, manufacturers and others in the industry — including 12 businesses from Maine — on a letter last month to the White House, endorsing the Clean Power Plan and calling for solar energy to play a strong role in its rollout.

The Clean Power Plan, which includes solar incentives, is a huge step forward. Its Clean Energy Incentive Program will reward states that choose to cut their emissions by investing in solar.

Furthermore, credits will be awarded to projects that generate renewable energy in 2020 and 2021, and begin construction after a state submits their implementation plan. These incentives will drive quicker investment in solar, with the goal of making clean energy affordable for all Mainers.

Maine has proven that it’s up to the challenge to create a cleaner energy future. Since joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in 2009, the regional cap-and-trade program has cut Maine’s emissions while saving Mainers on their electricity bills. According to “States of Progress,” a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy group, Maine is on track to surpass its 2030 pollution reduction targets because of its participation in RGGI.

Maine’s government can and should do more to support one of the state’s most promising industries, for the future of our economy and environment. We can’t afford to let tax credits expire in 2016. We can’t afford the Gulf of Maine’s rapid warming.

Simply put: Maine can’t continue business as usual. The Clean Power Plan is the beginning of a more sustainable economic and environmental future.

As big polluters and their allies ramp up their opposition in Congress to the Clean Power Plan, it’s vital that Mainers stand for a clean energy future. We hope that Sen. Susan Collins — a key vote in the Senate — will stand with Mainers for the sake of our environment, sustainable industries and future generations.

Sam Zuckerman is owner of Maine Solar Solutions, a Portland-based solar energy equipment supplier. Mike Curran is a campaign organizer for Environment Maine, also in Portland.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: