Nearly 300 gigawatts of unsubsidized local solar could beat utility prices in the next decade, but until recently most Americans couldn’t participate because their own rooftop isn’t suitable for solar. That’s changing fast. Just one project featured in our 2010 community solar report, by the Clean Energy Collective, has managed to replicate its initial success. … Continue reading
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Update 12/20/12: This project includes battery storage. Just last month, the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association, serving communities just north and west of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, announced Minnesota’s first community solar project. The 40 kW solar array will be located at the cooperative’s headquarters, with members allowed to purchase individual panels in the project… Continue reading
Colorado just launched their long-awaited community solar gardens law (program subscribed in 30 minutes) and California is progressing on a virtual net metering law that could remove one of many roadblocks to community solar. But the Vashon Community Solar Project in Washington State shows that doing solar community-style hasn’t become easy. The Vashon project will… Continue reading
Net metering is a common distributed renewable energy policy in the United States, allowing individuals to “turn back” their meter (and reduce their electric bill) by generating on-site electricity. But utility accounting systems typically prevent people from sharing the output from a single, common solar or wind project. Virtual (or group or neighborhood) net metering… Continue reading
When you subtract out shady roofs, renters, and other factors, only about 25% of Americans have a place to install solar power. With the high upfront cost of a complete system, the potential solar universe shrinks further. That changes with “community solar.” After a long wait on the state’s Public Utilities Commission to finalize the… Continue reading
Thanks to innovative energy policy, residents of Ontario can invest in local solar power projects by buying SolarShare bonds. The $1,000 bond provides a 5% annual return over five years and the money is invested in solar power projects across the province (as the chart below shows, this beats a savings account with 0.8% interest or even a 5-year U.S. treasury, with 0.91% interest). Continue reading
Last week, Brian Foley of the Sierra Club published an interview with John Farrell on “grassroots solar” on the Sierra Club blog, Compass. Read the interview below, or click through to the Compass. Interview: Grassroots Solar You hear about gigantic solar and wind farms that require vast amounts of land. But what about the decentralized… Continue reading
If you like reading about “what we can do better” in community solar policy, check out our report – Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities – but if you like a very detailed exploration of how the three major models for community solar navigate the ins and outs of existing incentives and regulations, and a primer on how to set up a community solar project, you can’t go wrong with NREL’s Guide to Community Solar.
Last week I briefly reviewed IREC’s new (almost) Best Practices for Community Solar and Wind Generation. Craig Morris provided another review this week that provides a very good perspective.
For one, Craig notes that there’s an unhealthy focus on net metering to the exclusion of other policies (like feed-in tariffs) that can provide a higher value for community projects. I think he illustrates one of the biggest problems with continuing to rely on net metering for distributed renewable energy projects:
Generally, under net-metering the utility company gets your “excess” solar power for free, say, at the end of the calendar year – solar power that offset the most expensive power on the spot market during times of peak demand in the early afternoon during the summer. You give that to your utility for free under net-metering. [emphasis added]
The report also misses a chance to highlight the global best practices for community renewables, or even the best practices in the U.S.:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when IREC went looking for best practices, it did not look at leading global markets, but stayed within the confines of US borders. The study is typical of US analyses in that respect (see this report at Renewables International). Clearly, the dominant global policy to incentivize renewables is feed-in tariffs, especially in ramping up community projects. IREC even ignores FITs within the US, comparing policies in Massachusetts, California, and Maine, for instance, while Vermont, which has successful, but rather limited feed-in tariff scheme, is mentioned only in terms of its “group billing program.”
Craig also notes the glaring issue of ownership. The IREC report defines community ownership as “direct ownership, third-party ownership, and utility ownership.”
Which begs the question of what kind of “community” system can be owned by a utility. Certainly in Germany, a community system is by definition one owned by the community.
IREC goes on to state a preference for utility ownership, an idea I find appalling. As I noted in my review, utility-owned community solar projects have often asked community participants to pay more for electricity, at a time when most people going solar are making a return on investment.
Overall, I think I agree with Craig’s conclusion:
Given the current policy framework in the US, the report is probably useful. For instance, it discusses how community projects can avoid having to pay income tax on the power generated and how federal tax credits can be utilized. In other respects, IREC’s thinking is clearly still bound to net-metering; if you switch to feed-in tariffs, for instance, the question of “demand charges,” which seems to be an important issue for IREC, becomes completely irrelevant. In effect, the proposals basically show how progress could be made within the current legal framework without any major changes.
IREC’s report provides a good perspective of how to advance community renewables under a “business as usual” policy framework. If you agree that we might be able to find better policy, however, you might want to read [shameless promotion alert] Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities instead.
In mid October, Leon County, FL, joined Babylon, NY, Palm Desert, CA, and Sonoma County, CA, as well as the California Attorney General, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council in suing the Federal Housing Finance Agency over their opposition to the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) municipal energy financing program. These lawsuits were complemented… Continue reading