Bad News for Fracking Is Good News for Solar

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A New York state ruling on fracking is hailed as precedent-setting and could spell trouble for the natural gas industry. That’s likely to open more doors for solar, which is already making major headway in the U.S.

 

By the time Josh Fox toured his second fracking documentary, Gasland Part II, he didn’t travel alone. He took some solar advocates on the tour to provide a ray of hope for audiences. Without this addition, the film was just too much of a downer.

Fighting fracking can seem like an uphill battle. But victories are being won — and solar power can help.

Yesterday brought good news on the fracking front, with a major decision by New York’s highest court that upheld the ability of towns to ban fracking via zoning ordinances. Although the state already had a moratorium on fracking, local governments were concerned this would be lifted and decided to take matters into their own hands.

The decision affirming their right to do so is being hailed as a major victory that could have implications around the country. According to Tina Casey of CleanTechnica, these are threefold:

  • More New York communities are likely to ban fracking in the wake of the decision.

  • The fact that fracking can be regulated at the local level creates a piecemeal environment that makes it tough for the natural gas industry to conduct business.

  • The ruling sets a precedent that could be followed in other states, like California and Colorado.

 

This is good news for solar. Natural gas has been called a “bridge” to renewables, but widespread fracking can end up delaying solar development — not to mention causing earthquakes and serious environmental and health damage.

 

To take something away, especially something that’s perceived as having economic benefits, it helps to replace it with something. Solar is that something.

 

In fact, solar is gaining on fossil fuels. In May, solar and other renewables provided 88.2% of new installed electrical generating capacity in the U.S. Solar was high on the list of new generation, at 156 MW, with natural gas accounting for just 49 MW.

 

What about the rest of the year? For the first five months of 2014, renewable energy sources accounted for 54.1% of the 3,136 MW of new domestic electrical generating installed — with solar leading the way. And since January 1, 2012, renewable energy sources have accounted for 47.83% of all new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity.

 

In states like California, new solar generation records are being broken so fast it’s hard to keep up.

 

John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has already declared solar’s victory over natural gas, as shown by a ruling this year in Minnesota that distributed solar arrays were a more cost-effective resource than natural gas. Farrell stated bluntly, “If solar trumps gas for peaking power in Minnesota, there’s little reason to be building new natural gas peaking capacity anywhere in the country. Ever again.”

 

Between the Minnesota and the New York rulings, it looks like the tide is turning for natural gas — turning toward solar, that is.