APPA joins DOE program to help utilities expand community solar

September 16, 2020

by Peter Maloney
APPA News
September 16, 2020

The American Public Power Association has joined the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP), a program sponsored by the Department of Energy that aims to expand access to affordable community solar to every American household by 2025.

Nearly 50% of households and businesses are not able to host rooftop solar systems, according to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Partners in the program, first announced last September, have access to peer networks and technical assistance resources that can be used to set goals and work toward overcoming barriers to expanding community solar projects.

The National Community Solar Partnership program’s three goals are to make community solar accessible to every U.S. household, ensure community solar is affordable for every U.S. household, and to enable communities to realize supplementary benefits and other value streams from community solar installations.

More specifically, partners in the NCSP program have access to an online community platform that includes virtual person-to-person meeting and webinars that allow them to communicate with DOE experts and each other. Program partners also have access to the technical resources of the DOE and its network of national laboratories.

Program partners also can participate in collaborative groups to address barriers to establishing community solar projects. The program’s Municipal Utility Collaborative, for instance, seeks to demonstrate replicable models for solar energy deployment that offer low or no fee subscriptions and result in energy savings for customers.

“Through the program, the DOE provides technical assistance for utilities to come together and solve community solar challenges. APPA will work with the DOE to help produce guides and webinars for people who want community solar,” Alex Hofmann, vice president of engineering services at APPA, said.

Despite early successes – dating back to 2011, public power utilities were among the first utilities to develop community solar projects – but barriers have limited the spread of that success. NCSP’s Municipal Utility Collaborative aims to address those barriers, including conflicts that can arise between community solar programs and existing rate structures, finding appropriate locations for community solar projects, streamlining procurement processes, and creating project financing structures that accommodate the fact that public power utilities are not eligible for tax incentives often used to fund renewable energy projects.

To reach its aims, the Municipal Utility Collaborative is focused on identifying and implementing best practices and lesson learned regarding community solar program design, including pre-qualification of income status, and working with third-party sponsors.

The collaborative also focuses on developing sustainable customer financing options, such as on-bill financing, monthly subscription products, subsidy options for low income residents, and finding models that can integrate community solar with other utility programs, such as demand response, energy efficiency, and rate assistance programs for low income customers.

The Association’s kick-off meeting for the NCSP program is scheduled for next week with meetings for more technical aspects of the program slated for November.

“Community solar is a great way for utilities to provide access to solar energy for people in the community that wouldn’t normally have the option” Hofmann said. In most cases, it is more cost effective for a utility to build a community solar project than for an individual to install rooftop solar, if they own a roof top to put solar on, that is, he added.

Public power utilities that were already participating in the Municipal Utility Collaborative include Austin Energy, BrightRidge, City of Colton Electric Utility, Seattle City Light, Snohomish County Public Utility District, and the Town of Marblehead Municipal Light Department.

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