Solar power’s maturation has clearly reached the “fight” stage; it’s big enough to be taken seriously. There’s a wealth of statistics to choose from to show solar’s growth in the boom year of 2013. In the first 10 months of the year, utility-scale solar accounted for 21 percent of all new generation capacity in the U.S.; in the month of October, it was 72 percent. And in an unprecedented court decision in the first week of 2014, a Minnesota judge ruled that utility-scale solar is a better investment for Xcel Energy’s expansion plan than new natural gas capacity.
Wind power, of course, has been big enough to be taken seriously for quite a while. The U.S. wind industry now finds itself in a new stage of its maturation: life without the federal production tax credit (PTC), which expired at the end of 2013. The industry has been there before, with disastrous results, but this time is different from the past boom-and-bust cycles of the 1990s and 2000s. I don’t think the PTC will ever return in its previous form; the industry will likely lobby for some type of tax subsidy as part of a more comprehensive federal tax reform package. Hopefully, that will include the long-overdue opening of master limited partnerships to investments in renewable energy projects, which would most likely be wind farms. Rather than its own PTC, that would allow wind power to enjoy at least some of the same treatment as fossil-fuel energy sources, which is just as it should be.