Written by Gary Skulnik
It’s not exactly a blank check, but the Maryland PSC’s recently unveiled regulations for community solar set the stage for an exciting competition to get new clean energy projects off the ground. Get ready for the next big green wave lifting our state to new found leadership in innovative solar development. Neighborhood Sun, a new social venture, aims to be among the first to help communities build local, affordable clean energy solar projects for residents, businesses and organizations.
The regulations were made official in late February and will be fully promulgated sometime about May. There’s a lot to digest, but the bottom line is that they are set up well enough to support new community solar development. What is community solar, you ask?
For those new to this, community solar is a type of solar power where consumers (“subscribers”) can purchase a share of the power generated by a nearby solar project and through the magic of virtual net metering, will be credited for that power by their utility. In other words, it’s exactly the same as rooftop solar except you don’t have to put anything on your roof and you don’t have to commit for 25 years. There is no investment needed, no upfront payment, and of course no equipment to install. The Program has the potential to include all utility customers that did not have the opportunity to go solar until now. Check here for some quick facts on the market potential of community solar.
There are only a few states that have the necessary regulatory structure in place for community solar to work. Maryland is about to be among this select group of leaders once the program is launched this spring. The regulations, or program structure, have just been adopted by the PSC. Here are a few highlights of the program (for a full reading of the regulations, go here):
- The program establishes the process for registering a community solar project, for how to credit the subscribers, as well as many other aspects of the business.
- The PSC sets a cap on how many megawatts of community solar projects can be built. The cap is a bit low, but still large enough to get a bunch of projects going. The program divides up the cap into three categories – “small,” “low-moderate income,” and “open.” The small category is for projects under 500kw, while the low-moderate income category is for projects that primarily serve these communities, and the open category is for any project up to the maximum 2MW. No project can have more than 350 subscribers.
- Subscribers will get credits on their electric bill for the power they purchase from the project, and it looks like that means people will be able to actually save money while going solar. The subscriber credits carry over each month until the meter read before April, at which point any excess credits would be paid for by the utility with a check or a bill credit. This is called “excess generation.” It’s a bit too complicated to get into here, but it could come up for people who buy a share of a solar project that’s larger than their actual use. The PSC allows subscribers to purchase generation up to 200 percent of their historic usage.
- Subscribers must be in the same utility territory as the project, meaning if you are a Pepco ratepayer, you would have to find a solar project that’s also in the Pepco territory. Though the program is a three year pilot, any projects built during the time will be allowed to operate for 25 additional years after the program ends.
- The utilities will set up queues for projects looking to get into the program. It’s a first come first served situation, though there are certain documents each developer needs to submit with their program application in order for it to be considered. The queues are supposed to be publicly available.
The regulations provide some consumer protections related to marketing, contract disclosures and other matters. They also define low and moderate income, and provide a mechanism for certifying customers of those categories.
In all, it looks to be a robust new program that’s going to create incredible new opportunities for consumers in Maryland to support clean, renewable solar energy while likely saving money. For a little more detail on how community solar works, and to sign up to be among the first in line for a new project, visit our web site.