Testimony explains why community solar benefits Maryland

Lauren Barchi, program director for Solar United Neighbors of Maryland, testified before the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee last month. She was there to advocate for the extension of the state’s community solar pilot program. HB 683, and its state senate version SB 520, would extend the program for nearly another five years, providing plenty of time to properly evaluate how community solar would best work for Marylanders.

Maryland’s legislature approved the community solar pilot program in 2015. Its goal is to enable more Marylanders to benefit from solar energy. Community solar makes it possible for anyone with an electric bill to access local solar energy by allowing individuals or businesses to subscribe to offsite solar arrays. This expands solar access to renters, low- and middle-income residents,  homeowners and businesses who lack access to their roofs or are in buildings that are not suitable for solar installations because of obstacles like the type of roof or shading.

Solar United Neighbors has been involved with the pilot program from the beginning. The extension of the community solar pilot program is necessary to give stakeholders additional time to build projects and assess the program. The program was legislatively enabled in 2015, however it was not launched until 2017.  Extending the pilot will allow the legislature, advocates, and the Public Service Commission to more fully consider the program’s successes and challenges, and more carefully formulate and take action on any changes that may be required to improve the program should it become permanent. A successful and fully utilized pilot program will unlock access to solar for as many as 25,000 Marylanders.

Lauren’s testimony before the committee is below:

Why we need to extend Maryland’s community solar program

Chairman, Vice Chair, and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify today. My name is Lauren Barchi, and I am the Program Director for Solar United Neighbors of Maryland. I would like to tell you two stories of how this pilot program has worked in two non-traditional projects to help Marylanders take advantage of solar energy when they would otherwise not be able to.

John Mariani owns a small apartment building in Fell’s Point that is excellent for solar, down the street from his home that is not so good for solar because of a roof top deck. Because of the community solar pilot program, he was able to register as a Subscriber Organization with the PSC and build a 10kW solar array on his rental property that was given space in the program. Now his home, his sisters’ home, and the common spaces in the apartment building’s energy bills are offset from the credits from the array. This project helps illustrate that by making community solar possible it encourages individual investment in distributed energy resources.

The community of North Chevy Chase is a community that is significantly shaded by trees which makes rooftop solar very hard for most members of the community. So, this community took action and joined together to negotiate a rate for community solar with developers. The current narrow profit margin in community solar didn’t allow for a huge discount but the community did negotiate a rate lower then PEPCO’s current rate with no escalator. This project shows that local community involvement in outreach and education to fellow community members drives interest and participation in the program. This project also highlights some of the challenges that such a subscriber aggregation model can face which may be an indication that the current program is not large enough to meet the potential demand of Maryland subscribers.

These projects are only two examples of the enormous possibilities that this program can create. I ask you to give this legislation and stakeholders the time we need to make this program a success by passing this bill.

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