Community solar is a hugely-interesting and dynamic area of solar policy in 2013. Where they exist, such programs offer significantly-expanded access to clean energy’s many benefits. No roof required.
In a true community solar program, customers “subscribe” or purchase an interest (for a defined period) in a specific offsite solar system. In some cases, subscribers may have individual solar panels assigned to them. Subscribers then receive credits on monthly utility bills for each unit of electricity produced by the subscribed portion of the system. These bill credits are generally adjusted to account for use of the utility’s infrastructure to ‘deliver’ electricity from the offsite solar system to a subscriber’s home or business.
These community solar programs are truthfully few and far between. By far the largest such program today is Xcel Energy’s Solar*Rewards Community program in Colorado. This program received final regulatory approvals last year, and the first systems are now coming online. In fact, REC Solar recently completed a 500kW Solar*Rewards Community system outside Boulder for the Clean Energy Collective, and subscriptions are currently available for Boulder County residents by calling us at (888) 657-6527.
Efforts to develop similar programs across the U.S. are slowly gaining momentum. In California there are now multiple parallel efforts to create statewide “shared renewables” opportunities. However, the utilities – never ones to squander a good opportunity – are proposing policies which put them squarely in control of marketing, pricing, and selling subscriptions. Though specific details are very much in flux, under the leading proposal in California homeowners and businesses would not be able to subscribe to a specific system, would only have access to fixed pricing, and probably wouldn’t save money on monthly bills. Instead, subscribers would likely pay more to purchase renewable electricity satisfying up to 100% of their demand.
These “green power purchase” programs don’t allow market forces to drive down the price of solar, nor do they encourage development of innovative new consumer offerings. Indeed, it’s been the fiercely-competitive residential solar market that’s enabled the development of zero-down residential solar and allowed solar prices to plummet by 20% in a single year. We encourage policymakers to let an open, competitive marketplace also drive down community solar prices.
Community solar is an exciting prospect, but for homes and businesses with properly-situated roofs and sufficient electrical demand, an onsite solar system will always be the best way to maximize financial advantage with clean solar electricity. As always, if you have questions about how solar can save you money, don’t hesitate to contact REC Solar today.