Recognizing the growing demand for community solar solutions, theInterstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) has produced a Community Renewable Power Proposal (PDF). The proposal lays out bestpractices and rules for what could be a policy guide to “co-investmentin local renewable power facilities”.
The proposal addresses the need for regulating a growing sector ofthe renewable energy market. There are two main reasons for the growingpopularity of community renewable energy, in which multiple participants may own a generating facility off-site. The first reason is that manyindividual sites are not suitable for solar panel installations (or wind turbines, or geothermal drilling, et al.), but property owners maystill be passionate about clean energy for any number of reasons: energy independence, utility savings, or unique investment opportunities. Thesecond reason is that renters, or tenants of multi-unit buildingsincluding commercial spaces, may not have the authority to install arenewable energy system on their building or grounds.
Facilitating community solar purchasing is especially important where densely populated urban areas translate into high energy prices and ahigh incidence of property rental and leasing. For instance, aBoston-based group called New Generation Energy offers low interestloans for solar installations throughout New England, targeted towardslow-income housing communities, small businesses, and non-profits(including schools and churches). Programs in Sacramento, California and in Coloradohave begun to address this issue, too.
Some of the key points of IREC’s proposal are:
- All customer classes of an individual utility may participate, and a single project’s owners may be from different utility classes–so, homerenters and small business owners could get together on a project
- Participants will pay for interconnection costs to the grid
- Energy produced may be consumed on site, and/or sold back to thegrid for credits in a virtual net metering process
- Renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the system remainwith the system owners
- To cut down on headaches for the utility, it may put allparticipants on the same billing and credit cycle; and changes inparticipant allocation can’t be made more than once a month
- Each owner within the owning group may finance individually
- Jointly owned renewable energy projects should still be eligible for all state and federal financial incentives
- Participants may choose any available retail rate structure throughthe utility
- Eligible technologies shall include solar PV, biomass, geothermal,wind, ocean, hydroelectric or hydrogen energy generating systems
For decades, non-profit IREC has been facilitating renewable energypolicy creation and adoption for governments and utilities, whilekeeping an eye on the best interests of the consumer. In the absence ofstrong federal regulation for renewables, guidelines like what IREC isproposing here give the industry a best-practices touchstone and canprovide a framework for state policies.