Community solar power could fill a void in the market, but regulatory and technical gaps remain

Ohio could become the last state to allow community solar projects. Under these agreements, homeowners could purchase clean energy without having to pay a large down payment. However, they would be obligated to make monthly payments for as long as their contracts required. If the law is passed, 2 gigawatts of community solar power will need to be installed statewide.

Community solar power is suitable for energy customers who are environmentally conscious but unable to install solar panels – for whatever reason; they may be renting, they may not be able to afford the substantial upfront costs, or their homes may not be in sun-friendly locations. Sometimes a third party will aggregate the buyers and procure the electricity under a long-term power purchase agreement. But it most often involves people opting for sunscreen programs.

“Community solar power would allow more Ohio consumers who want solar power but cannot install it on their own roofs to have access to solar power at a lower price,” said Tom Bullock, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Ohio, in a statement. . “This tool will allow Ohio families and small businesses to convert their electricity to Ohio-generated zero-emission electricity at a price they can afford.”

In Ohio, half of new electrical installations could be installed on private property and the other half on environmentally compromised contaminated sites.

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia offer community solar power. That’s according to a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which says the community solar market has outperformed forecasts – a conclusion also reached by research firm Wood Mackenzie. It predicts that 4.5 gigawatts will be installed nationwide over the next five years, a 9% increase from previous forecasts.

The community solar industry has pledged to develop 20 gigawatts of capacity by 2025, enough to power 5 million homes. To get there, however, it says federal funding and tax incentives are needed, along with integrated grid planning – overcoming technical barriers to allow facilities to interconnect to the grid. The benefits of such improvements include better air quality in these communities and a more diverse fuel supply portfolio.

“One of the challenges is that we have the patchwork of state laws, which allows us to determine what works and what doesn’t,” said Garrett Nilsen, acting director of the U.S. Department’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. energy, during a webinar organized by Our energy policy. How to illustrate what works and bring more harmony to the space of permits? We recognize that there should be local autonomy, but more universal information needs to be deployed.

Energy Justice

The Harrisonburg Electric Commission is launching a community solar project to serve Virginia residents. If the deal goes through, it will partner with Dominion Energy, the local investor-owned utility, to install a huge array of solar panels in an industrial area. Dominion would own and operate the facility while Harrisonburg would purchase production under long-term contracts. Customers would pay a little more, but their rates would be locked in for long periods of time.

In this case, those who join the community solar program cannot participate in the net metering offer – the ability to return all access power to the utility and get paid for it. Other programs allow this. But many solar panel installers and homeowners are locked in bitter battles with their utility providers over what the payments should be — a number that directly impacts return on investment.

Solar suppliers are often the backbone of community solar programs. First Solar Inc. and SunPower are two companies that do this. This month, Soltage, an independent power producer, announced that it would build 4 projects in South Carolina and one in Illinois. The electricity produced will be sold to governments, commercial and industrial customers and local utilities. It is part of a 450 megawatt solar and storage deployment announced about a year ago.

In California, more than 65 cities and counties are already powered by 100% carbon-free electricity — and all but two of those communities are served by Community Choice Aggregators. They authorize municipalities to buy clean energy for their residents and businesses. Through aggregation, municipalities pool their energy loads and leverage their purchasing power. Communities are not only positioned to buy more renewable energy. They can also purchase microgrids to increase reliability and economic development.

There is a difference between community solar power and community aggregation. Community solar allows owners to purchase shared projects, while community aggregation allows a third party – often a municipality – to purchase on behalf of customers. Community aggregation is ideal for deregulated energy markets, which can also join community solar efforts. Both programs can work in tandem.

Communities will also have more say in addressing “energy and environmental justice” issues. Placing clean energy projects in emerging neighborhoods and providing access to this sustainable energy is a form of empowerment. “The more we build, the more jobs there are,” said Jeff Weiss, executive chairman of DistributedSun, at the Our Energy Policy forum. “And the more the (solar) market develops.”

Community solar projects fill a critical void in the market – the ability to provide clean energy to customers who cannot install solar panels on their roofs. It’s potentially a win-win — an arrangement that results in cleaner air and economic development that’s good for rural America and low-income areas. This should provide the political incentive to close emerging regulatory and technical gaps.

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