Com­mu­ni­ties get ‘green’ light for pi­lot so­lar pro­gram

Will pro­vide sun’s en­ergy to low-in­come, renters

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­news.com

The Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion re­cently adopted reg­u­la­tions to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity so­lar pi­lot pro­gram within the state.

The three-year pi­lot will pro­vide so­lar-gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity for Mary­land res­i­dents without re­gard for prop­erty own­er­ship. Thirty per­cent of the pro­gram will be set aside for low- and mod­er­ate-in­come cus­tomers to par­tic­i­pate, ac­cord­ing to PSC Di­rec­tor of Elec­tric­ity Phillip Van­der Hey­den.

Com­mu­nity so­lar pro­grams al­low res­i­dents to lease through a sub­scrip­tion a por­tion of a shared so­lar en­ergy sys­tem that uses so­lar pan­els to de­rive en­ergy from the sun’s ra­di­a­tion. As the world’s most abun­dant en­ergy source, an hour and a half of sun­light could power the en­tire world’s elec­tric­ity for one year, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of En­ergy web­site.

The monthly savings for so­lar en­ergy can vary from $45 to $187 a month, de­pend­ing on where cus­tomers live, ac­cord­ing to a study by the NC Clean En­ergy Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are tax in­cen­tives for us­ing so­lar en­ergy. How­ever, so­lar en­ergy ac­counts for less than 2 per­cent of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion in the U.S.

The ini­tial costs of so­lar pan­els, con­nec­tion fees, permits and la­bor are of­ten pro­hib­i­tive for many home­own­ers. Renters tra­di­tion­ally can­not par­tic­i­pate be­cause they can­not make mod­i­fi­ca­tions to a dwelling they do not own. Mary­land’s pi­lot elim­i­nates the up­front costs and the has­sle of in­stalling pan­els for those who choose not to do so.

The state’s pi­lot pro­gram is still in the plan­ning stages. A stake­holder group, made up of util­ity com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties and so­lar devel­op­ers, is still work­ing out the de­sign, terms and con­di­tions of the pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to Van­derHey­den, but he an­tic­i­pates some­time in late Au­gust state util­ity com­pa­nies will have sub­mit­ted to the PSC their pric­ing struc­tures, called tar­iffs, for en­ergy con­sump­tion.

Once the com­mis­sion ac­cepts the tar­iffs, there are sev­eral more steps to be com­pleted be­fore res­i­dents can sub­scribe to a so­lar en­ergy sys­tem. Sub­scriber or­ga­ni­za­tions must get au­tho­riza­tion from the com­mis­sion to op­er­ate and the ap­pli­ca­tion process has to be de­vel­oped.

There are pro­vi­sions in the pi­lot for en­ergy to be gen­er­ated from so­lar pan­els in­stalled on rooftops, park­ing lots, road­ways or park­ing struc­tures, as well as brown­fields, former in­dus­trial or com­mer­cial sites to in­clude land­fills and mined lands. The ex­act lo­ca­tion of where the so­lar projects will be lo­cated has not been de­ter­mined.

South­ern Mary­land Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive, along with Chop­tank Co­op­er­a­tive, sub­mit­ted com­ments on the pi­lot’s draft reg­u­la­tions back in De­cem­ber 2015.

“The Co­op­er­a­tives are ex­cited to see com­mu­nity so­lar’s prom­ise re­al­ized in Mary­land but the draft reg­u­la­tions are fa­tally flawed in sev­eral re­spects,” per SMECO Vice Pres­i­dent of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs and Gen­eral Coun­sel Mark MacDougall and other co­op­er­a­tive lead­er­ship, in the Dec. 4 com­ments cit­ing spe­cific con­cerns over the “scope of the pro­gram, rate credit is­sues, as well as de­sign con­cerns in­volv­ing sur­charges and util­ity data.”

“The regs didn’t ad­dress all our of con­cerns and we’re still eval­u­at­ing the im­pact that th­ese regs will have on all of our cus­tomer mem­bers,” said Tom Den­ni­son, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic af­fairs for the util­ity com­pany, re­fer­ring to the fi­nal pi­lot reg­u­la­tions that came out July 8.

Den­ni­son added that SMECO is gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of the shared so­lar ef­fort and that the com­pany re­cently re­leased a re­quest for pro­pos­als for so­lar elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion “to help us meet our re­new­able port­fo­lio stan­dard,” or RPS.

Es­tab­lished in 2004, the RPS is a state man­date re­quir­ing util­ity com­pa­nies to gen­er­ate 20 per­cent of their en­ergy from re­new­able sources by 2022. Two per­cent of that en­ergy must be de­rived from so­lar. The de­sired out­come RPS is lower en­ergy costs and fewer pol­lu­tants in the en­vi­ron­ment. Den­ni­son said SMECO is on tar­get to meet the re­quire­ment.

What is for cer­tain, re­gard­ing the pi­lot, is that renters will be able to con­tract for so­lar en­ergy, ac­cord­ing to the reg­u­la­tions. There will also be an in­cen­tive for so­lar com­pa­nies to pro­vide the ser­vice to low- and mod­er­ate-in­come cus­tomers.

The reg­u­la­tions were ini­ti­ated from House Bill 1087 “Elec­tric­ity — Com­mu­nity So­lar En­ergy Gen­er­at­ing Sys­tem Pro­gram,” which Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) signed into law in May 2015.

Once the pi­lot is up and run­ning, Mary­land will join 25 other states with shared so­lar projects, to in­clude Cal­i­for­nia, which gen­er­ates more than 5 per­cent of elec­tric­ity from so­lar power.

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