The tiny state of Delaware is a leader in many areas. It was the first state to ratify the Constitution, earning it the nickname “the First State.” And it’s a leader in business, with over 66% of Fortune 500 companies incorporated in the state due to its lenient tax laws.
But in the area of renewable energy, sadly, Delaware is lagging behind. The state is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, with less than 7% of its power coming from renewable sources. Delaware has adopted several programs to boost these numbers, but it’s a slow process.
Delaware’s green energy program started in 1999. That year, the state deregulated its electric utilities, allowing customers to choose their power supplier. It also started a Green Energy Fund to support renewable energy in Delaware. Customers of the utility Delmarva Power fund the program through a small surcharge on their bills. Over the years, it has spent over $55 million on more than 4,300 local renewable energy projects.
In 2005, Delaware passed the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards Act. It required all the state’s utilities to get a growing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. The standard has been updated twice since, once in 2010 and once in 2021.
However, some utilities can exempt themselves from these renewable energy requirements by contributing to a green energy fund, like Delmarva. Two major energy providers—the Delaware Electric Cooperative (DEC) and the Delaware Municipal Electric Cooperative (DEMEC)—have taken this option. This means customers of Delmarva, DEC, and DEMEC all have access to green energy grants from their utilities.
Choosing renewable energy can shrink your carbon footprint and your electric bill at the same time. In Delaware, various programs can help you install a home solar setup and get credit for the energy you produce. The state also offers rebates to help you pay for an electric vehicle (EV).
If you have a grid-connected renewable energy system in Delaware, you get credit for the excess energy you produce. Unlike many states, Delaware requires your utility to pay for this energy at the full retail rate. Each month’s earnings show up as a credit on your next electric bill. At the end of a year, you can roll over your credit to next year or receive a cash payment.
In addition to net metering payments, you earn credits called Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) for producing clean energy. You can sell these credits to utilities to help them meet their renewable energy targets. You get one SREC for each megawatt-hour of power you produce for the first 20 years you have your system. Most residents earn about one SREC per month, which is worth around $11 on average.
In Delaware, you can buy a home solar setup for about $2.58 per watt. The total cost after federal tax credits is typically around $18,000, roughly $10,000 below the national average. Moreover, that $18,000 expense increases the value of your house. Nationwide, homes with solar panels sell for 4.1% more than homes without them. Since the average Delaware home is worth over $358,600, that’s around a $14,700 benefit.
Major utilities in Delaware offer green power programs to help their customers pay for renewable energy projects. This includes solar panels, solar water heating, residential wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps. The three main programs are:
The Delaware Clean Vehicle Rebate Program helps residents pay for non-gasoline-powered vehicles. Battery electric vehicles priced under $60,000 qualify for a $2,500 rebate. Smaller rebates are available for plug-in hybrids and cars that run on natural gas or propane. However, the details of this program may change after May 1, 2023.
A separate program offers rebates of up to $7,000 for companies that install fast charging stations for EVs. This includes EV chargers at workplaces, apartment buildings, and public areas.
According to the Energy Information Administration, Delaware’s total renewable energy capacity is 106 megawatts (MW). Most of that is solar power, and most solar in the state is small-scale. In 2021, the state got more than twice as much power from rooftop-scale solar as it did from big solar farms.
Wind power accounts for a very small share of Delaware’s energy production. Currently, the state’s only utility-scale wind farm is a single 2-MW wind turbine on the University of Delaware campus. However, there’s a much bigger offshore wind project in the works. This project, called Skipjack, will have a 120 MW capacity. It’s scheduled to go online at the end of 2023. However, the power it produces will go to customers in neighboring Maryland.
The First State also gets a significant share of its power from biomass. It has two landfill gas power plants with a combined capacity of about 7 MW. Together, they produce almost 2% of the state’s electricity.
Delaware’s Renewable Portfolio Standard calls for the state to get a growing percentage of its electricity from renewable sources. For the year 2021, the target was 21%. Unfortunately, the state failed to meet that goal. In 2021, it got less than 7% of its power from renewables. The vast majority of the state’s electricity—over 85%—came from natural gas.
The good news is that a lot of the natural gas Delaware uses has replaced even dirtier coal and oil. In 2000, these two fuel sources produced 83% of the state’s power. But the state’s continued reliance on natural gas is not sustainable. The First State will have to ramp up renewable energy production fast to meet its goals.
Delaware’s renewable energy sector is small, but not so small compared to the state’s size. In 2020, clean energy employed 2.79% of all workers in the state. Only eight states have a higher percentage of their workforce than that devoted to clean energy.
In November 2021, Delaware adopted a new Climate Action Plan. It addresses two goals: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping this coastal state adapt to a warming world. One of the top strategies for achieving the first goal is scaling up renewable energy. Ways to do that include:
In January 2023, Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control funded 14 new EV charging stations. Several businesses and one municipality received grants to build the chargers. They will be available to the public (for a fee) 24 hours a day.
Delaware’s Renewable Energy Standard requires the state to produce 40% of its power from renewables by 2035. That figure is supposed to include 10% from solar power specifically. However, as we have seen, the state is currently falling far short of its renewable energy goals. It’s already missed its target of 21% renewable energy and 2.5% solar energy for 2021.
One problem is that two of the state’s biggest utilities have exempted themselves from the standards. Instead, they contribute to green energy funds that help pay for solar panels and other small-scale clean energy projects. Unfortunately, these small projects don’t produce nearly enough power to meet the state’s clean energy targets.
If Delaware wants to meet its renewable energy goals, it needs to start scaling up solar power a lot faster. The First State is talking the talk on clean energy, but it also needs to walk the walk.