In the depths of a tough New England Winter, my spirit is lifted by knowing that every day we enjoy about two minutes more sunlight than the day before. Despite the incredible challenges of 2020, we begin the new year full of gratitude, hope and optimism for the future. As is so often the case in times of hardship, the challenges brought out the very best in us. I feel particularly grateful and proud of the 270 employee-owners of ReVision Energy, who demonstrated just how amazingly supportive and resilient a values-led, mission-driven, employee-owned business can be in times of turmoil.
ReVision customers also responded with grace, patience, and remarkable creativity to the unexpected schedule shifts, new communication formats, and myriad of rigorous personal safety protocols we put into place to operate safely in 2020. We’re proud that in addition to another record-breaking year for solar installations, we also provided 45,200 meals to families in need through our partnerships with local food banks. Thank you so much for your contributions to those efforts!
Despite significant disruption to residential construction in the spring, residential solar installations increased nationwide by nearly 10% in 2020. In an otherwise uncertain economy, the clean energy industry continues to be a bright spot for both investment and growth of high-quality local jobs.
In 2003, when ReVision Energy (then Energyworks) first opened its doors in Liberty, Maine with the mission “to help transition northern New England away from fossil fuels and to clean, local, renewable energy,” the words seemed grandiose and a little fantastical, even to us. But less than two decades later, the consequences of global carbon pollution from fossil fuels are ever more apparent. The need for aggressive action to address the growing climate crisis is more widely accepted; beneficial electrification and renewable energy are now universally understood as key tools that will get us there. In 2020 a new report from UC Berkeley found that it is not only possible to achieve 90% clean electricity nationwide by 2035, but it is demonstrably cheaper! Those findings were mirrored in a local analysis by Dr. Richard Silkman, which found that Maine can transition its entire energy economy to renewables by 2050 at a lower annual cost.
Through the global pandemic and massive economic disruption in 2020, clean energy has shown that it is here to stay. Despite significant disruption to residential construction in the spring, residential solar installations increased nationwide by nearly 10% in 2020. In an otherwise uncertain economy, the clean energy industry continues to be a bright spot for both investment and growth of high-quality local jobs. This is due to the increased understanding of the urgency for climate action, as well as increased cost effectiveness of renewable energy. Ultimately though it is the result of individual decisions from some of the most admired companies in our region, like Machias Savings Bank, WS Badger, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as the hundreds of households who joined the ReVision Energy community as Solar Champions this year. Thank you for your leadership and investment in your own energy future!
While individual action is paramount, public policy continues to be critical to the clean energy transition.
Though national leadership was sorely lacking in 2020, and the federal government spent most of the year mired in partisan dysfunction, incompetence, and corruption, there are bright spots. We witnessed the first Climate Election of our lifetime, with thoughtful, comprehensive, and ambitious climate plans put forward by the Democratic challengers, including the eventual President and Vice President-elect. Exit polls from the November election showed that a majority of voters (68%) see climate change as a serious problem, giving the new administration a strong mandate for aggressive climate action. Thanks in part to that support, Congress included key climate provisions in the omnibus spending and pandemic relief bill that passed in December 2020 with strong bipartisan support. In addition to the critical extension of the Investment Tax Credit at 26% for solar and offshore wind, the bill also included a $35M investment in basic research, support for streamlined permitting, and a reauthorization of the Weatherization Assistance Program.
This propels us into 2021 with valuable momentum, though there is much work left to do. The new administration will inherit not only a worsening public health crisis but also an economy in peril. President-elect Biden has made it clear that while he understands climate as an issue for every part of government, he also understands that the path to rapid and sustained climate action requires a focus on climate policy by his economic team. Deployment-led clean energy innovation is good for American jobs and great for the economy. Biden’s plan to ‘build back better’ includes an investment of over $400B over ten years and a pledge to create up to 10 million new jobs supporting the clean energy transition, and to do so in a way that advances the equally important goals of social and racial justice in this country.
A few important climate and energy priorities outlined by the Biden-Harris team:
- Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and re-establishing American leadership in global climate commitments at COP in 2021.
- Reversing many of the horrific environmental rollbacks of the last 4 years, rebuilding the capacity of the EPA to create meaningful regulation through science, and holding polluters accountable for the environmental damage they cause.
- Accelerating the deployment of clean energy technology, including goals of reducing carbon footprints of existing building stock by 50% by 2035, and supporting the installation of over 500,000 new public EV charging outlets by the end of 2030.
- Banning new oil and gas leases on public lands and permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- Developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring that 100% of sales for new light and medium duty vehicles will be zero-emission.
The prospects for this agenda depend not only on Executive branch leadership, but also on support from Congress, which looks more likely following this week’s historic Senate runoff in Georgia!
With the return of real leadership at the Federal level, local action in states and municipalities will continue to be critical, and 2021 promises to be a busy year for energy and climate policy there as well:
In Augusta we expect the Governor and Legislature to build on the early success of the bipartisan 2019 solar bills, and work to implement the recommendations of the excellent Climate Council report released in December. Of particular interest in that report are recommendations about continued investment in clean energy workforce development, modernizing the electric utilities, electrifying transportation, and facilitating investment through a Green Bank or Maine Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator. We also continue to be excited and impressed by the impressive collaborative work being done by the Cities of Portland and South Portland in the implementation of their One Climate Future plan.
Unfortunately in the Granite State, utility lobbyists, fossil fuel interests, and their political allies in Concord continue to attack foundational programs for both energy efficiency and renewable energy. But even New Hampshire is not immune from the inexorable march of clean energy. A few of the State’s smaller utilities have begun innovative pilots around distributed energy storage, and we’re hopeful that these programs may expand statewide. We’re also cautiously optimistic about the bi-partisan proposals to make net metering more accessible to municipalities. And though far too modest in scale, we’re excited about recent net metering updates and the PUC grant program to support solar projects for low- and moderate-income customers. We at ReVision Energy are deeply committed to a just clean energy transition, and we are excited to bring the benefits of clean energy to historically marginalized communities.
Massachusetts has started 2021 with a bang with the overwhelming approval of a landmark bipartisan and bi-cameral Climate bill, S2995, that has been nearly four years in the making. The bill establishes a statewide net zero emissions limit for 2050 and includes a process for review and renewal of interim goals every five years. The bill also increases the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, sets targets for the deployment of heat pumps and EV chargers, and promises continued investment in equitable workforce development programs. Though the legislature still has critical work to do in the coming months with respect to fixing the broken utility interconnection process and net metering for smaller projects, S2995 is a great start to the new year and a solid commitment to climate leadership in the Bay State.
Overall, the view to 2021 and beyond is an optimistic one.
The future we want for our region and nation and planet may not be promised, but it is ours to achieve. The climate emergency is the defining issue of our generation and is a monumental challenge, but it is not larger than the awesome power of human innovation, collaboration, and kindness. While our elected representatives can help make it possible, the policy work only matters if individual families, households, companies, nonprofits, faith groups, and other leaders continue to be the change they wish to see in the world by investing in their own renewable energy future. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to do this meaningful and important work together with all of you. And so tomorrow as you wake and greet the rising sun a minute or two earlier than you did this morning, we hope you’ll join ReVision Energy in continuing to fight to make New England a more just, equitable, sustainable place that we can be proud to leave to our children.
Happy New Year, solar champions!
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