Get the scoop on community solar

July 2, 2015
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Are you interested in using solar energy, but can’t install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on your property? Have you heard about community solar and want to know what all the buzz is about? Look no further! Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection heard your frequently asked questions and is here to help demystify Maryland’s new community solar energy legislation!

What is community solar?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly half of U.S. households and businesses are unable to host solar energy installations because their property isn’t a good fit for solar or they rent their home or office. Community solar—also known as “virtual net metering” or “community solar gardens”—gives Marylanders who aren’t able to install solar on their residences a unique opportunity to directly support and benefit from a shared solar power source.

Either project developers, utilities, or community groups with a suitable parcel of land or building rooftop, installs the solar PV panels, then solicits investors or subscribers to pay for the panels. The investors and subscribers then receive a credit on their utility bills proportional to their contribution and how much energy is produced by the PV panels.

 

A graph showing the flow of information between subscribers, utilities, and community solar projects

Chart courtesy of the MD DC VA Solar Energy Industries Association

What’s the deal with Maryland’s community solar law?

On May 12, 2015, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed the Electricity – Community Solar Energy Generating System Program (HB 1087 and SB 398) into law. Under this law, the state of Maryland can initiate community shared solar programs, which includes establishing a three-year pilot program, outlining program costs and rules for utility companies, as well as preparing a report on benefits and best practices. Maryland’s Public Service Commission has until May 15, 2016 to implement regulations for this law, and will submit a recommendation report to the Maryland legislature on whether to make the pilot community solar program permanent by July 1, 2019.

 

Image of solar panel installation, photo courtesy of Flickr user 1010uk

Photo courtesy of Flickr user 1010uk.

 

Specific projects under the new community solar law

While the law makes solar energy more accessible to Marylanders, it also sets some specific requirements for the community solar projects based in Maryland. Individual community solar projects:

  • Must have at least 2 subscribers,
  • Must be located in the same electric service territory as its subscribers,
  • Are capped at 2 megawatts (MW) in project capacity,
  • Cannot have subscriptions larger than 200 kilowatts (kW) constituting more than 60% of subscriptions, and
  • Cannot provide credit to a subscriber that exceeds 200% of their baseline annual electricity usage.

Additionally, the cumulative nameplate capacity of all pilot community solar projects in the State cannot exceed the 1,500 MW maximum for net energy metering projects (community and otherwise) in the state. After the three-year pilot program has ended, if the community solar program does not become permanent, community solar projects approved during the pilot phase can continue to operate.

 

How is this different from a solar co-op?

Unlike community solar programs, solar co-ops are neighborhood or community-initiated groups that use their collective buying power to get a discounted price on the purchase and installation of solar PV panels. Community Power Network is one nonprofit that helps organize and support solar co-ops in the DC area, including in Maryland and Montgomery County. Once you join a co-op and have a preliminary roof screening by the Community Power Network, your local co-op made up of you and your neighbors will collectively solicit and review bids from local installers and select one firm to do the installations for all co-op members. By leveraging collective buying power, communities can make solar panel installation on individual homes more affordable.

Community solar, on the other hand, allow residents without a viable roof to support local renewable energy projects while also gaining financial and environmental benefits of a remote solar installation.(If solar co-ops sound right for you, check out the current co-ops in Maryland, some in local Montgomery County communities! Groundswell, a DC nonprofit, also offers solar group buys, similar to the co-op model.)

 

Image of solar panels, courtesy of Mountain Ash, via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mountain /\ Ash.

How can I get involved?

In the U.S., there are currently more than 58 community solar PV arrays in 22 states, according to Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). As a Maryland resident, you’ll soon be able to subscribe to a shared community solar project in your area offered by your utility, third-party developer, or non-profit organization. Once a community solar project in your area gets the green light to move forward, you’ll be able to “buy-in” as a subscriber and get credit on your utility bill for the solar PV power generated, just as if you had the solar panels on your own rooftop.

Subscribe to the Montgomery County Energy News to get the latest updates on energy happenings in the County, including any updates to the Community Solar law and regulations in Maryland.

Can’t wait for community solar, and want to learn more about other solar options? Visit DEP’s Solar Energy webpage for more information.

 

Who can I contact for more information?

Questions about the community solar legislation can be directed to the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (energy@montgomerycountymd.gov) or the Maryland Energy Administration (800-72-ENERGY or meainfo@energy.state.md.us).

 

 



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