Can’t install your own solar panels? Some areas let you join a community project.

A community solar undertaking from Dimension Renewable Energy is seen in Waynesboro, Va. Lawmakers in lots of states, together with Virginia, have handed or are contemplating payments to allow community solar tasks, which permit renters and others who can’t install rooftop panels to purchase into native tasks and obtain credit score on their electrical energy payments. Courtesy of Dimension Renewable Energy by way of Virginia Mercury

For 4 generations, Steve Wine’s household has tended a 600-acre farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, elevating steers and rising corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The farm has struggled lately with rising prices and slumping crop markets, leaving Wine to query the operation’s viability.

In a bid to maintain the farm, Wine will start within the coming months to reap a new crop: solar power. He’s leased 34 acres to a solar electrical energy developer, which has put in panels that can generate about 5 megawatts of energy at peak capability. The undertaking is funded by subscriptions from about 1,000 households within the area, who will obtain credit on their electrical energy payments primarily based on the facility it generates.

“This is a fixed income that we know is going to be there,” Wine stated. “I love farming, and this was an option we had to help lighten the burden.”

The power mannequin, referred to as community solar, is rising throughout the nation. It permits individuals who lease houses or who can’t install rooftop panels on their own properties to subscribe to mid-size solar tasks on close by farms, colleges or field shops.

While subscription strategies can range, business teams say a typical month-to-month subscription of $120 to $135 can find yourself saving contributors $15 to $30 a month. For many, the financial savings can quantity to five% to twenty% of their electrical energy invoice.

For property homeowners who host the solar panels, leases may be price about $30,000 a yr, in line with one developer.

Backers say community solar can play an essential position in increasing clear power, and provides low-income households aid on their power prices. Although definitions can range, the business commerce group Coalition for Community Solar Access says 20 states have insurance policies that allow “true” community solar, which requires utilities to credit score the electrical energy payments of households that subscribe to solar tasks that aren’t constructed or run by the utilities themselves.

This yr, lawmakers in at the least 10 states have put ahead payments that may allow or broaden community solar applications, pushed partly by federal funding alternatives from the Inflation Reduction Act. Citing client selection and affordability, a rising variety of Republican lawmakers have sponsored such proposals, together with in seven of these states.

But some payments have stalled amid sturdy opposition from utilities, which have argued that community solar applications don’t account for prices reminiscent of billing overhead and distribution charges, that are handed on to non-subscribing ratepayers.

“All the other utility customers can’t subsidize the benefits of those who are subscribing to community solar projects,” stated Zach Hill, lead public and community affairs supervisor at Alliant Energy, a Midwestern utility that has opposed laws in Wisconsin. “There’s no consumer protections [in the bill].”

‘It’s working’

Earlier this yr, Virginia lawmakers handed payments to broaden the state’s community solar program by 200 megawatts, sufficient to energy greater than 30,000 houses, and to convey tasks into new areas of the state.

The state’s preliminary program, created in 2022, was capped at 150 megawatts and was nearing that capability. According to a November projection by the consulting group Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, greater than 12,000 households will likely be subscribed to this system this yr, receiving invoice credit totaling $19 million — a median of about $130 per family per thirty days.

These tasks assist homeowners of farmland hold their farms, decrease prices to ratepayers and allow everybody across the state to take part in our transition to wash energy.

– Virginia Democratic Del. Rip Sullivan

Like many community solar applications, the Virginia measure exempts or reductions subscription prices for low-income prospects, whereas reserving a set quantity of memberships for such households. Low-income households have made up the whole lot of this system to date.

“The fact that we were bumping up against the cap shows that there’s a demand for it and it’s working,” stated Del. Rip Sullivan, a Democrat who sponsored the enlargement measures this session. “These projects help owners of farmland keep their farms, lower costs to ratepayers and enable everyone around the state to participate in our transition to clean power.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed Sullivan’s payments into legislation final month.

As Virginia’s program expands, different states want to set up their own. The Pennsylvania House superior a invoice earlier this yr that may create a community solar program within the state. Sponsored by a mixture of Democrats and Republicans, the measure was just lately referred to a Senate committee.

Some utilities in Pennsylvania have labored with lawmakers to form the proposal. Brian Ahrens, senior communications specialist with PECO, the state’s largest electrical and pure fuel utility, stated the corporate is mostly supportive of the measure however involved about an modification that may forestall utilities from recovering prices reminiscent of distribution bills associated to community solar. PECO goals to remain engaged in discussions because the invoice heads to the Senate, he stated.

“This is something we’d like to see, and it’s a benefit to our customers,” Ahrens stated. “We want to ensure that [projects] are paying their fair share of the costs needed to tap into our distribution system.”

Many of the state proposals this session have been sponsored by Republican lawmakers, together with these in Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“The trend in the last few years has been more and more red states taking up these bills,” stated Brandon Smithwood, vice chairman of coverage at Dimension Renewable Energy, an Atlanta-based developer that has constructed community solar tasks in 11 states. “There’s an appetite for these smaller, locally controlled projects that can yield savings to customers.”

Utility battles

In Michigan, Republican state Sen. Ed McBroom has been among the many leaders backing community solar laws.

“I’m doing my best to try to bring value to consumers who are paying rates that are far too high,” he stated. “This allows folks to tap the solar market on a small scale.”

McBroom stated the proposal has run into opposition from utilities whose leaders say the prices of integrating community solar will drive up charges. He questioned the sincerity of their considerations over client impacts. Democratic leaders within the Senate have dedicated to holding hearings on the problem, he stated.

Consumers Energy, a Michigan-based utility, didn’t grant an interview request.

Community solar backers say utilities are a frequent roadblock for such proposals.

“[Utilities] would rather have their monopoly on the grid, and they have their claws in the entire political ecosystem,” stated Matt Hargarten, public affairs director with the Coalition for Community Solar.

Utilities in Wisconsin successfully opposed a community solar proposal drafted by Senate Republicans. In an interview, officers at Alliant Energy stated the Wisconsin measure failed to incorporate protections that may guarantee tasks lined up ample subscribers earlier than being constructed. Utility leaders feared the proposal would drive them to purchase electrical energy from tasks that don’t have sufficient subscribers to be viable.

Alliant additionally pointed to its own subscription-based solar applications, supplied to prospects in Wisconsin and Iowa.

But advocates say such utility-run applications aren’t really community solar, as they fail to succeed in the dimensions and value financial savings of these supplied by third-party builders.

“What’s important is creating a competitive market that allows for non-utility project developers,” stated Maria McCoy, a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that seeks to empower native communities. “Subscribers should save money and not be paying a premium.”

In Washington, Democratic state Rep. David Hackney this yr launched a community solar invoice that shortly bumped into opposition. He conceded that utilities within the state raised authentic client safety considerations that may should be resolved earlier than the problem might advance subsequent session.

“The idea of community solar is still alive,” he stated. “The hard work of legislation is coming to an agreement that’s acceptable to both sides.”

Among the utilities’ considerations was the opportunity of incompetent or fraudulent builders exploiting their subscribers, with the utilities left to face the shoppers’ wrath.

“It was going to be us that they would come to, because we’re the ones putting those charges and credits on their bill,” stated Heather Mulligan, supervisor of buyer power renewable applications with the utility Puget Sound Energy. “We’re very open to continuing the conversation and finding ways to support the development of community solar in a way that ensures there is oversight of all parties participating.”

The publish Can’t install your own solar panels? Some areas let you join a community project. appeared first on Stateline.

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