On Thursday, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) adopted community solar rules that solar advocates say will bring the state one step closer to enabling all Oregonians to directly participate in, and benefit from, local solar projects without having to place solar panels on their roofs.
Gov. Kate Brown, D-Ore., signed S.B.1574 into law in March 2016. In addition to increasing the state’s renewable portfolio standard and implementing other provisions, the legislation directed the PUC to develop a community solar program. For the last year, the PUC’s staff and commissioners have worked with stakeholders to develop the program rules approved Thursday.
“We are excited to see community solar move forward in Oregon,” says Jeff Cramer, executive director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “Our member companies are looking forward to investing in clean energy infrastructure for the state and helping meet consumer demand for solar.”
Cramer adds that following the new order, CCSA urges “the PUC to finalize key details of the program as soon as possible to ensure equitable access to solar for all Oregonians, whether through solar panels on their roof or in their community.”
The program approved would enable initial development of over 150 MW AC of community solar projects statewide, enough to serve around 22,000 households. Any electric company customer can participate – including homeowners, renters, businesses, schools and local governments – and at least 10% of the program will be reserved for low-income households.
While the approval of the program rules is a significant step, solar industry leaders caution that the PUC still has work to do before developers can begin constructing projects and signing up customers to participate. Most notably, the PUC did not finalize the bill credit that customers will receive on their utility bill for participating in the community solar projects. Industry representatives say that credit value certainty is critical to jumpstarting project development in Oregon. They have been urging the PUC to establish an interim bill credit by the end of 2017 so that initial community solar projects can be built to meet pent-up customer demand.
“Stakeholders have put in a lot of work developing the community solar rules,” remarks Jeff Bissonnette, executive director of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association. “Solar developers are ready to start building projects but most importantly, customers are ready to sign up. We are gratified that the commissioners recognize that we need to keep the process moving to deliver community solar to Oregonians.”
“Community solar is rapidly growing in states across the country, and with good reason – Americans want more solar, and these policies expand its benefits to those who may not have had access before,” adds Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the national Solar Energy Industries Association. “We’re thrilled that Oregon is advancing its community solar program, which helps everyone from renters to low-income families and small businesses more easily access and afford solar. With Oregon already poised for a record year of solar installation, this program solidifies the state as one of our nation’s emerging solar leaders.”
The full PUC order is available here.