Getting Started: Assessing A Community's Policy Environment

Federal, state, and local policies, along with regulations and incentives, constitute the foundation on which the solar energy industry can build. Identifying the regulatory, policy, and incentive framework that currently affects solar energy adoption in a community will help community leaders accurately assess the changes necessary to advance solar energy in their area.

Jurisdictional authority over many of the policies that affect the solar energy market can vary depending on whether a community is served by an investor-owned, cooperative, or municipal utility. States typically have jurisdiction over investor-owned utilities and policies with statewide applications such as renewable portfolio standards (RPSs), net metering, and interconnection. Many states also operate solar incentive programs. State policy makers and regulators, however, often allow local governments to define or build on these policies for their particular area and utility. Some programs and policies that promote solar energy—such as streamlining permitting processes and educating local code officials—fall exclusively under the jurisdiction of local governments.

Here are some tips for assessing the policy and market environment in a community:

  • Use the table that follows to understand the market conditions for solar energy technologies in the area. This list focuses on the policies and incentives that have proven essential to establishing a solar market.

  • Access the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) at to identify federal, state, and local, and utility policies and programs currently in place in the area.
  • Identify the policy and program areas under local government jurisdiction and the areas in which local leaders can collaborate with regional or state authorities.
  • Read the information in this guide on each area of interest.
  • Understand that the policies and incentives in the table that follows, although important to a truly robust solar market, represent only some of the options for supporting solar adoption in a community. If, for jurisdictional or other reasons, some of these best practices are beyond a community's immediate reach, many other action areas are described throughout this guide that local leaders might wish to focus on until their broader policy environment improves.

Additional References and Resources


Freeing the Grid

Network for New Energy Choices (NNEC), Vote Solar Initiative, Interstate Renewable Energy Council, North Carolina Solar Center, Solar Alliance, December 2010

This report outlines the best and worst practices in state net-metering and interconnection policies.


Taking the Red Tape Out of Green Power: How to Overcome Permitting Obstacles to Small-Scale Distributed Renewable Energy

Network for New Energy Choices, September 2008

In this report, the Network for New Energy Choices reviews a wide variety of political perspectives and priorities expressed in a range of local permitting rules. The report suggests how existing rules can be altered to support growing renewable energy markets.


Clean Energy State Program Guide—Mainstreaming Solar Electricity: Strategies for States to Build Local Markets

Clean Energy Group, April 2008

This report describes a road map of actions states can take to effectively bring solar electricity into the mainstream.


Developing State Solar Photovoltaic Markets

Vote Solar Initiative, Center for American Progress, January 2008

This report includes case studies of four states that have developed robust solar markets. Policies described in the report serve as models for a state interested in building a thriving solar market.


CESA State Program Guide: State Strategies to Foster Solar Hot Water Program Development

Clean Energy Group, December 2007

This program guide outlines straightforward strategies to support the adoption of solar water heating technologies, including financial incentives, installer training, and consumer education.