When Michigan joined a list of states that are moving to create a community solar market, it happened because a Republican state representative teamed up with a Democratic colleague.
“It’s rare these days to find an issue that is truly bipartisan and is a win-win for everyone,” said Republican Rep. Michele Hoitenga in a statement announcing the legislation she cosponsored, which would enable a community solar market in her state if it passes. “Community solar is one of those rare issues.”
Clean energy was once a topic largely associated with the Left. But in recent years, the community solar industry has gained conservative and Republican allies who see clear benefits that align with their values: investing in renewable energy saves money, increases market competition and creates jobs.
Nationwide polling released in late 2021 by the Conservative Energy Network, a group that works to increase grassroots support for renewable energy among conservatives, shows broad support across political parties for government action on clean energy development, including 86% support for community solar projects as a way to increase America’s supply of clean, domestically-produced energy. These results were consistent with polling conducted in other states among conservative voters.
The poll also found 70% of all voters favor a greater emphasis on solar power, including 59% of Republicans and 77% of independents.
“People often think there is a stark political divide between those that want more renewable energy development versus those that only want legacy forms of energy generation like coal or gas,” said Tyler M. Duvelius, Director of External Affairs at the Conservative Energy Network. “This couldn’t be further from the truth.”
In recent years, swing states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio have introduced legislation in support of community solar. Maryland, led by Republican Governor Larry Hogan, has become a leading state for community solar. In Missouri, a bill to establish a community solar program that was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bill White is moving through the legislature.
Advocates say the community solar industry has found a foothold with conservatives because it’s an economic investment tool that offers consumers more choices and opportunities for lower energy bills. It’s also a way to tap into American-made energy, which makes for a key selling point given the growing national discussion around foreign oil.
“Community solar is an important driver of economic development in communities which broadens the tax base for public services like police, fire and schools—without raising taxes on individuals,” Duvelius said.
Duvelius’s group tends to support community solar programs that encourage competitive community solar where third parties are allowed to compete with utilities. That can lead to costs coming down in favor of the customers.
“Community solar has really resonated with Republicans because it has, by and large, been implemented in a way that is consistent with free market principles,” he said. “Republicans are quick to embrace innovative developments that are driven by capitalist pursuits.”
In rural America, farmers are finding they have much to gain from community solar. Landowners can earn money by leasing land for local solar farms on their land, creating a diversified income stream while lowering energy bills for their neighbors. Workers are also needed to operate and maintain clean energy projects, which can create jobs.
Duvelius said the interest around advancing clean energy and community solar proposals is only growing, citing a policy platform released last month by House Republicans that details how congressional Republicans plan to address climate change and forge a cleaner energy future.
“The momentum from conservative leaders on these issues is palpable,” he said.