Obstacles remain two years into Maryland community solar program

By Nick Seymour on January 31, 2019

In the spring of 2017, the Maryland government launched a pilot program aimed at increasing Marylanders’ access to renewable energy through community solar power. As we look toward the program’s third and final planned year, Solar United Neighbors has released a comprehensive report that details the encouraging progress—and remaining obstacles—that the program has seen so far. Here are the five key takeaways from the report.

Developers are willing to finance and build community solar across Maryland.

Community solar projects allow individuals, businesses, non-profits, and municipalities to buy or lease part of an off-site solar generator and earn credits for their electric bill in the process, just as if the panels were on their own roof. The Maryland government’s program was designed to allow for the creation of a variety of these projects, and the program has successfully delivered on that goal.

The program requires that Marylanders only subscribe to solar energy projects that are in their utility service territory (Delmarva, BG&E, Pepco, and Potomac Edison), and private project developers are all actively looking for new customers. They’re also applying for additional capacity now available for the second year of the program. You can find a list of available community solar projects in your area on our Community Solar Project platform.

Greater public outreach and education is needed to build a larger base of community solar subscribers.

The new community solar projects have already offered real savings over standard electricity service, and long-waiting solar supporters are showing significant interest in becoming subscribers themselves. However, broader consumer awareness of these projects is low. For the pilot program to succeed, community solar projects need a healthy, consistent, and long-term flow of customers, but that has not yet been established.

State and local officials need to develop a community solar siting process that respects local concerns without halting project construction.

While the pilot program provides an opportunity for consumers to subscribe to electricity through community solar, the reach of the program has so far been limited. There are some existing municipal roadblocks, such as zoning moratoriums, that are impeding the development of new solar sites in parts of Maryland. However, since these roadblocks are the products of local agricultural or aesthetic concerns, municipal officials must provide clarity or even incentives to encourage solar projects be located where Marylanders want them in their communities.

The Maryland Public Service Commission should simplify the verification process for low-to-moderate-income participants.

Even though low-to-moderate-income (LMI) consumers have the most to gain from going solar, the process by which they do so is still unclear. Right now, there is insufficient clarity surrounding how project developers should verify LMI eligibility. Our report outlines several ways in which the Public Service Commission could improve the situation, including subsidizing third-party income verification services or permitting the use of signed affidavits from the consumer stating their income.

The Maryland Legislature should extend the pilot program’s length to better understand how to make community solar more successful.

Given the roadblocks listed above and others detailed in the report, it’s clear that Maryland’s community solar pilot program needs more time. To ensure a proper pilot study upon its conclusion, Solar United Neighbors recommends that the Maryland Legislature extend the program’s length. We also recommend that the state legislature postpone the pilot study accordingly so that they can fully consider the program’s successes and challenges that may impact Marylanders’ ability to benefit from solar energy.

Click here to download the report