The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved final rules to implement the state’s three-year community solar pilot program. The PSC order sets the total program capacity target at close to 200 MW, directs state utilities to file their community solar tariffs within 15 days and instructs PSC staff to finalize the program start date “as soon as is feasible.”
In 2015, Maryland state lawmakers passed H.B.1087, legislation mandating the creation of a community solar pilot program. The new PSC order comes after the commission reviewed state utilities’ revised tariff pages and compliance plans, as well as after considering input from other stakeholders, including solar developers.
The PSC says the order “resolves” several issues and will “enable the process of implementing the pilot programs to proceed.” For example, the order explains that the PSC originally expected the statewide program capacity to be slightly higher, at approximately 225 MW. However, the commission ultimately decided to calculate the capacity target using actual 2015 peak demand figures, rather than using estimates of the 2015 peak demand from the PSC’s 2014 10-year plan.
Furthermore, the order states that although solar stakeholders requested that “capacity for all three pilot program years be available for reservation at the beginning of the pilot program” in order to provide more certainty to developers, the PSC determined every program year will have a “new and separate selection process.”
“The commission wants to encourage Marylanders and companies to participate in the program, and it is concerned that allocating all pilot program capacity through the Year 1 application process may prohibit possible pilot program entrants from participating,” the order explains. “In addition, the commission wants to see the outcome of the Year 1 process to assess if the pilot program includes sufficient project diversity. Ultimately, the commission has a statutory obligation to conduct a meaningful pilot program study, and it believes that the study will be better if the pilot program contains a variety of project types. Therefore, the commission finds that projects that do not receive a position in Year 1 must reapply for a position in a future year and do not maintain their queue or waiting list position for subsequent years.”
However, the PSC did decide to agree with solar developers that projects under the program should be chosen on a first-come, first-served basis.
With Maryland’s pilot program set to launch, community solar advocates have applauded the PSC order.
“The Maryland Public Service Commission, staff and a wide array of stakeholders have devoted tremendous effort to working through the details to ensure a smooth roll-out of this community solar pilot program. We appreciate their time and collaboration to seek consensus on a number of important issues,” says Jeff Cramer, executive director of Coalition for Community Solar Access, in a press release.
“Community solar provides an important opportunity for residents and businesses who are not in a position to install solar panels on-site to do so through a collective option,” Cramer explains, adding that the PSC decision means “Maryland is now positioned to become one of the top five community solar markets in the nation.”
Tom Matzzie, founder and CEO of community solar provider CleanChoice Energy, comments, “Maryland’s new community solar program offers a big opportunity to expand the solar market, bringing clean energy, jobs and solar savings to Maryland residents. More solar means cleaner air, healthier lungs, a greener world. We’re very excited to do business in Maryland.”