energy Program

Plugging Renewables into the Grid

View of mountains and new solar panels at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. The Refuge continues to pursue sustainable electricity production with the addition of the solar panels near the James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center.

Americans are increasingly aware of the importance of renewable resources in reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, renewable energy technologies, particularly solar and wind power are the most rapidly growing sources of electricity in the U.S. Environmental and security concerns have also sparked interest in small-scale, “distributed” sources of electricity generation to reduce our reliance on large-scale, centralized power plants. Despite recent policy improvements, homeowners and business owners looking to invest in these new sources of energy still often face multiple bureaucratic barriers to installing their own small-scale, distributed renewable energy systems. In the U.S., the greatest barriers to the expanded use of these systems stem not from technical obstacles, but from financial, political and social hurdles.


Local permitting

Taking the Red Tape out of Green Poweridentifies the most significant municipal-level planning and permitting obstacles to the expansion of distributed renewable energy systems (solar photovoltaics and small wind turbines).  Such obstacles include complex and/or unclear local permitting requirements; permitting authorities that are inexperienced with renewable electricity systems; permitting requirements and fees that vary significantly across jurisdictions; and unfair and often illegal enforcement of restrictive housing covenants.  The 2008 report also provides seven sets of recommendations for states and municipalities to overcome the remaining hurdles to distributed renewable energy systems, focusing on the most common technologies – solar photovoltaics (PV) and small wind turbines.


Net Metering and Interconnection

Grid tied renewable energy allows the electric customer-generator to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy without the hassles of going off-the-grid. Interconnection standards established at the state level spell out how the customer generator can “plug into” the grid. In addition, the customer-generator can use the process of net metering to reduce their electric bill, thus immediately realizing the savings from their on-site system. Unfortunately, net metering policies and interconnection procedures vary widely in quality from state to state. In practice, customer-generators can realize greater benefits from clean energy systems in one state over another. Freeing the Grid outlines the best and worst practices that are currently in practice in each state and uses a set of criteria to “grade” each state based on the beneficial nature of each policy. Learn more at