Community Solar Projects Source: Community Solar Hub
Community Solar is on a steep upward trajectory. It’s right up there with apple pie and Teslas in popularity! It just makes sense, and now the movement is a decade old.
Placed in service in 2006, the shared renewables project in Ellensburg, Washington is considered “the first community solar project in the nation.” Today there are nearly 100 community solar projects spread across America. And programs are growing up. Seattle City Light’s community solar program began by building solar systems on shade structures at city parks. Now an impressive array at the Aquarium is community owned.
In 2014, EcoMotion released a white paper on Community Solar that defined the two predominant models for deployment. Somewhat polarized in terms of ownership, access, and tariffs, these models continue to evolve, tied with net energy metering debates and the compensation rate paid for distributed generation.
In the “utility-sponsored” model the utility provides its customers with the option to purchase renewable energy from a shared facility. The customer may purchase a set amount of electricity at a fixed rate for 20 years. In the “consumer-owned” model, homes and businesses purchase panels within a larger array from a community solar provider. In turn, the consumer gets a bill credit on his or her utility bill, just as he or she would if the panels were rooftop.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, today there are 25 states with at least one community solar project. In total, nationally, there were 91 community solar projects with a combined capacity of 102 MW installed through early 2016.
At least 12 states and D.C. have recognized the benefits of shared renewables by encouraging their growth through policy and programs. In the next five years, the United States is expected to add 1.8 GW of community solar. That’s 27 times the cumulative 66 MW of community solar installed through 2014.
Four states are expected to install the majority of community solar over the next two years. Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, and California have strong policies in place to support community solar development. In these “regulated states,” utilities are mandated to provide community solar and allow access to third party community solar developers. That said, at least one developer has found that working in states without requirements can result in superior partnerships with willing utilities and communities.
In September of 2013, the California legislature passed and the Governor signed Senate Bill 43, the Community Solar Bill. It mandated 600 MW of community solar developments.
In late January 2015, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the “Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program (GTSR),” as SB 43 compliant, a measure that will give millions of California residents and businesses the chance to buy fully green power. The Green Tarfiff/GTSR decision directs the three largest investor-owned utilities to offer a 100% renewable energy option to their customers, which they can do by developing 500 kW – 20 MW solar arrays from which they can sell power at a premium.
Now the community solar programs are rolling out: PG&E is now offering its Solar Choice community solar program. It has signed eight contracts for 50 MW of community solar arrays. PG&E’s program charges consumers a premium for community solar, 3.58, 2.8, and 2.85 cents per kWh for residential, commercial, and large commercial kilowatt-hours… much like a green pricing program. In this way the utility claims to avoid solar cross subsidies.
Southern California Edison is rolling out two programs for customers. First is a green tariff. Second is the Enhanced Community Renewables program through which SCE customers will buy shares of solar plants built by third-party developers. These aggregators must first win rights to offer community solar to Edison customers, then they will develop 500 kW – 3 MW community solar plants and sell shares in them for 20 – 50 year periods. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, while exempt from the mandate, is also preparing both a “Rooftop” and “Roofless” community solar program approach.
Meanwhile, community solar programs are in ways being eclipsed by the notion and promise and now reality of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) options.