While still relatively small in MW terms, community solar is a fast-growing segment of the U.S. solar market. This growth has not gone un-noticed by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
On November 17, the Obama Administration held a summit focused on community solar at the White House, the traditional residence of American presidents. The National Community Solar Summit builds on a partnership in July between the U.S. Department of Energy, three other federal agencies, non-profits, companies and states that seeks to expand access to community solar, with an emphasis on low- to middle- income households.
Private sector efforts are a key part of this program. Clean Energy Collective (CEC) is one of 48 companies and organizations that has joined that effort. CEC is a leader in the deployment of community solar, with 17 MW installed and another 5 MW under construction.
In an associated fact sheet, CEC was the first organization recognized by the Obama Administration for a program which it has put in place to enable investor-owned utilities to own and easily pay for community solar projects. CEC says that it says can be done without putting any economic pressure on rates or requiring non-solar customers to subsidize the program.
CEC Spokesperson Tim Braun notes that the program enables a structure that makes it easier for utilities to rate-base solar, which means that it can be included in the basic service charges of all customers, without needing a special item.
It is certainly is based on the ITC, and CEC's ability to monetize the ITC, and then provide a payment back to the utility in a way that makes sense to the regulators and allows them to rate-base that, Braun told pv magazine.
Braun notes that the program was rolled out on October 9, but says that it has not been widely covered in the media. Not many people have jumped on the significance of that program, he explains.
Nearly all of the utilities that CEC has worked with to date have been municipal utilities and cooperatives, with the exception of investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in Colorado which are required by state law to do community solar.
They are participating in Colorado because it is mandated, but they are also participating because of strong consumer demand, states Braun. Now we are able to allow (IOUs) to participate in a way that makes their stakeholders happy.
Braun estimates that this has helped CEC expand its reach to utilities nationally, and that the company is now in conversations with around 160 utilities around the nation. The company is currently developing more than a dozen sites in New York State, including sites in New York City.
GTM Research has estimated that community solar will grow from a market of only 21 MW in 2014 to 115 MW in 2015, and that the annual market will exceed 500 MW by the end of 2020. The company says that it expects a wave of market entry and expansion over the next five years.