Solar Made Simple: The Benefits of Community Solar
- Customers purchase the amount of solar they can afford, rather than investing in a whole system.
- Permitting, site assessments, and interconnection challenges are all handled at the project level and not by individuals, saving time for customers.
- Utilities can also participate and help ensure benefits to the grid.
- Programs can be designed to allow customers to transfer their energy to new homes.
- Renters in multi-unit buildings and business owners are able to participate.
Approximately 85 percent of U.S. residential customers can neither own nor lease residential systems because they are renters or have unsuitable roofs. Nearly half of all U.S. businesses are also locked out of the solar market for the same reasons. Community solar is a popular solution to this issue, and fourteen states and the District of Columbia currently offer this option to customers. Community solar projects enable consumers who live in an apartment, do not have a sunny roof, or cannot afford a full system to buy or lease a piece of a solar project and receive credit on their electricity bill for the power their panels produce.
States could look to Colorado as an example of successful leadership in community solar. In 2010, Colorado passed the Community Solar Garden Act, which encouraged community solar projects and provided subscription guidelines. The response was overwhelmingly positive; “shares in the facilities sold out in as little as 30 minutes after they were announced.” The state also amended restrictions to expand the potential subscriber base for projects. With clear legislation, states could replicate Colorado’s success throughout the state and encourage the development of community solar projects to benefit those communities experiencing technical and financial barriers.
Without specific enabling legislation, the process for developing a community solar project can be cumbersome. In order to improve the ease of such projects, state leaders could pass legislation expressly allowing community solar. These projects are typically developed under two different models: (1) an electric utility or cooperative builds, owns, and operates a project that customers can subscribe to, or (2) community members organize to purchase and own a project (often supported by third-party financing). States could allow for both models in order to maximize local access and control. For community-owned projects, the legislation could extend the same net metering laws as applied to individual residents. For subscription-based projects, customers could purchase a portion of the solar array and receive benefits through community net metering. Additionally, states could give priority to public land leases designated for community solar. With smart policies that encourage community development, all people who wish to purchase solar power could have access to it.