State and national solar energy advocates today expressed support for the Oregon Public Utilities Commission’s decision to adopt a retail credit rate for community solar projects. The solar industry believes the decision is an important step toward launching community solar in Oregon by the end of 2018, with a simple and financeable credit rate that will enable a set of community solar projects to move forward. Simultaneously, however, the solar industry warned that the decision doesn’t fully level the playing field for consumers without access to rooftop solar and could leave critical populations within Oregon, such as Portland, without access to community solar projects. The industry is also concerned about a potential gap in community solar availability for customers if regulators do not create a clear runway for transitioning to the next phase of the program.
Community solar refers to local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credits on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced. Community solar provides homeowners, renters, and businesses equal access to the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy generation regardless of the physical attributes or ownership of their home or business. Community solar expands access to solar for all, including low-to-moderate income customers, all while building a stronger, distributed and more resilient electric grid.
In 2016, Oregon passed legislation to create a state-wide community solar program intended to give more Oregonians the ability to access solar. With today’s decision, the Commission recognized that values currently proposed by the electric utility companies for the Resource Value of Solar (RVOS) are artificially low and that customers needed a higher credit rate to spur the development of community solar projects. According to the decision, community solar customers will receive a fixed credit that will match the current retail rate and will not rise with inflation. Unlike customers with rooftop solar systems, whose credits for the solar they generate rise as their utility rates rise, community solar customers will receive a credit that stays flat over time while their utility rates rise. In its Order, the Commission establishes this interim rate for about 40 MW of program capacity, which—if economically viable—could be enough to serve over 2,500 home and business customers. However, 10 of those 40 MW are set aside for projects smaller than 360 kW, and these smaller projects may not be viable at the rate set by the Commission. The credit rate may also be too low to support projects in Portland General Electric’s service territory and the small capacity allocation of 40 MW may mean the program stalls as it transitions to a yet-to-be-determined credit rate.
“The Commission’s move to adopt an interim credit rate is an important step to spur development of community solar projects that will provide more access to Oregonians who have not been able to enjoy the same economic and environmental benefits as their neighbors with rooftop solar,” said Brandon Smithwood, policy director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “However, today’s decision does not fully level the playing field and falls short of what is needed to enable consumers across the state to go solar and save on their electric bills. Without further adjustments to the rate and associated program rules, community solar projects may not be economically viable in large population centers, such as Portland. We look forward to working with the Commission and other stakeholders to create a program that works for all of Oregon’s diverse communities.”
“The commission took a critical step toward opening up community solar to Oregonians, but it’s just the beginning,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Low-cost, reliable solar power should be afforded the entire state, and we look forward to continuing to see expanded public access to solar resources.”
“We applaud the commission taking a major step toward implementing Oregon’s community solar program” said Jon Miller, executive director of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA). “Although we have some concerns about the ability of a flat 20-year incentive with no escalator to serve low income customers and small community solar projects, we believe establishing an interim rate now is important to getting the program up and running in 2018.”
News item from OSEIA