What is community solar?
Community solar is a solar project that allows customers to purchase or lease out a portion of the solar energy generated by an off-site array. In addition to the more common off-site projects, on-site multifamily buildings such as apartments and condominiums can benefit from the energy produced on their rooftop.
How does it work?
Community solar programs differ by State and utility in which they operate. Only PSE and SnoPUD have installed community solar projects in Washington. The solar energy in community solar doesn’t flow into your home. Still, it flows into your area’s power grid, providing electricity to homes and businesses in your region of the State. You reap the benefits of government solar incentives in the form of lower electricity bills.
Why community solar?
According to the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA), Washington wants to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045. Plus, by some estimates, about 77% of Washington’s residential homes cannot get rooftop solar due to inadequate solar access, space, or finances. Net metering through rooftop solar only works for about a quarter of the homes in The Evergreen State!
Existing Community Solar Projects
Puget Sound Energy
PSE customers can subscribe at $20 per month per share, and the bill credits for the solar energy generated by your share(s) will offset a portion of your monthly subscription cost. You can replace up to 120% of your annual average electricity usage with solar energy generated by your shares. Existing sites include Manastash Ridge, Bonney Lake, Kittitas, Olympia, and Pine Lake (pictured here).
SnoPUD’s Community Solar program at the Arlington Microgrid is scheduled to run for 20 years! The project includes 8,100 solar energy units. Each unit covers 1/5 of a solar panel. Customers can participate for as little as $120 per unit and will receive a monthly credit on their bill based on their unit(s) production.
Future of Community Solar in WA
Unfortunately, Washington state needs to catch up on allowing more effective community solar projects to come online. About a third of US states have enacted legislation that enables policies, regulations, and standardization for how community solar works.
Legislation of community solar law allows for standardized:
Benefits from subscription
Easy enrollment process
Travel with subscription
Predictable bill credits
Washington Legislature so far
Washington state legislature passed house bill 1814, establishing an incentive program for community solar projects that benefit low-income communities. The program features a precertification option through the Washington State University extension energy program and payments of up to $20,000 per project to cover installation and administration costs. This bill is an excellent example of financial support for community solar projects, but it needs more standardization to grow appropriately to meet the CETA goals for Washington!