Experts convene to discuss community solar

By John David Baldwin on September 22, 2017

Colorado is one of the best markets in the country for community solar. It’s appropriate then that the Centennial State held the first meeting of the growing community solar industry over the summer. The three-day long conference provided an opportunity for attendees to discuss community solar’s successes and the roadblocks that remain.

“More and more consumers, policymakers, and businesses are becoming interested in community solar as a way of expanding affordable, local, clean energy choices for all Americans,” said Hannah Masterjohn, Board Chair of the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), the trade organization that organized the event. Conference attendees included leading community solar providers, policymakers, advocates and customers.

One of the most pressing topics, as described here, is how to define the “true value” of community solar. “We know that local, distributed, renewable energy resources help make our electric grid stronger and more resilient,” Masterjohn said. “We also know that clean power generation helps save lives and create healthier communities.” The question is how to measure these positive benefits.

Masterjohn affirmed that, though there are many similarities between community solar and rooftop solar, there are differences in determining the true value of each. Both are distributed energy resources that produce energy typically consumed locally, which means they bring significant benefits to the local distribution system, which should be properly valued in both cases.

“However, precise valuation of the energy is [only] step one,” Masterjohn said. “Too many people forget to look ahead to step two, which is deciding how to translate that value into a simple compensation methodology that works for consumers.”

Masterjohn noted that both residential rooftop solar and community solar serve mass-market residential consumers. Because of this, compensation policies must be simple enough for these consumers to understand so that they are more likely to take part. Net metering is a good example of this. Because it is simple to understand, it is an effective policy. Masterjohn believes any subsequent compensation model needs to be easily comprehensible to consumers.

Policy advocacy was another significant topic discussed. There was general agreement that, at the state level, solar policy should confirm that participating consumers will receive credits on their utility bill for energy produced, and should establish the value at which that energy will be credited. “Summit attendees are working to establish those policy fundamentals in states where they don’t yet exist, and to improve them where they do exist,” Masterjohn said.

“I think that solar advocates and utilities would agree that one of the largest barriers to community solar growth is the outdated utility business model and regulatory framework, and we can and must work together with utilities to change that to create a ‘win-win-win’ for utilities, clean energy companies and consumers.”

A link to download the full agenda of the event can be found here.