Community solar

What is community solar?

Hundreds of D.C. homeowners have put solar on their houses. But what about those who live in apartment buildings or have roofs that don’t support solar panels? Everyone should have access to solar power. Community solar makes that possible.

Community solar offers the benefit of solar to community members (subscribers) who can’t, or prefer not to, install solar panels on their homes. This gives renters an option to purchase solar power.

With community solar, you can purchase or lease a “share” in a community solar project. Every month, you receive a credit on your electricity bill for the energy produced by your share.

How can I take part in community solar?

Project developers are in the process of putting together community solar projects. Click the button below to be notified when these projects are open to subscribers.

If you or your organization owns or leases a piece of land, you can develop a community solar project on that property. This is what’s known as a being a subscriber organization.

Subscriber organizations have many ways to finance community solar. These include tax credits that incentivize the development of community solar. To learn more visit http://www.nrel.gov. If you are thinking of developing a project, DC SUN can help! If you have a site and you want someone else to develop the project—let us know and we can connect you.

Where can community solar projects be located?

A community solar project can be located on the rooftop of a building (e.g. church, apartment, or warehouse) or on a piece of land in the District. There are no restrictions on the types of buildings that can host community solar projects. But, they must be physically located in the grid supplying the city. That means D.C. and a few edges around the city in Maryland.

Who owns community solar projects?

There are a number of different ways that community solar projects can be structured. Some examples include:

  • A company could build a community solar project and sell or lease subscriptions to community members.
  • An organization (e.g. church, non-profit, business, etc.) could install solar on their building and share the production with neighbors or community organizations.
  • A condo could install a large system and divide the production among some or all of the units.
  • A group of neighbors could get together and develop a project on a local building or parking lot.
  • A house with a basement rental unit can install solar on their roof and share it with the tenant.

There are many permutations of community solar projects. No doubt more will be developed as the market grows. D.C.’s community solar program does not limit the quantity or variety of community solar projects.

The history of community solar in D.C.

Summer 2011 to October 2013 – DC SUN and other community groups worked to pass legislation to make community solar possible.

October 1, 2013 – The D.C. Council passed the Community Renewables Energy Act of 2013. This bill allowed renters, homeowners with shaded roofs, tenants of apartment buildings, and others to receive the benefits of solar energy.

It did so by giving utility ratepayers access to virtual net metering. Virtual net metering permits anyone to subscribe to a solar installation. Once they have done so, the electricity produced by their portion of the solar installation is credited to their monthly electric bill. The passage of this legislation began a process at the D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC), to finalize the rules for the District’s community solar program.

September 2014 – April 2015 DC SUN and others participate in the PSC’s rule-making process (see filings below).

April 2015 The PSC issued its final ruling for the Community Renewables Energy Act of 2013. Unfortunately, the PSC ruled District residents who use community net metering to gain access to solar would not be refunded for the full value of their solar production. Instead, they would only receive a portion of the full net metering credit for solar (the full rate minus distribution and transmission rates). This created a “second tier” of solar subscribers – those who own homes and can put solar on their roof versus everyone else who rents, lives in high-rise buildings, or has a shaded roof. CREA was passed in order to serve those very citizens, but the PSC’s proposed rule undercut that purpose by reducing the value of solar to those citizens who needed it most.

June 2016 The FY 2017 Budget Support Act amends the Community Renewable Energy Credit Rate Clarification Amendment Act of 2016 (CREA) to partially restore the full retail distribution rate credit for power sent back into the grid from CREFs (Community Renewable Energy Facilities). The tweak to the statute restores full 1:1 credit to residential customer subscribers.

January 2017 – The Public Service Commission issues rules for community solar that include a full credit rate for community solar projects. This will enable community solar projects to be built in the District.

Establishing a community solar project

Community solar projects must be registered with Pepco. The utility has set up a web site where community solar project developers can register their solar, file for interconnection, and register subscribers for a project.

How is electricity from community solar credited on my bill?

  1. A subscriber organization decides to build a community solar project (also known as a community renewable energy facility, or CREF). They identify individual subscribers that want to subscribe to the community solar project.
  2. The subscriber organization then sends Pepco a CREF project application and provides Pepco with a list of the individuals that will be subscribing to the project, and the percentage of the system’s production that each individual will receive.
  3. Pepco receives and processes the CREF project application and the subscriber information.
  4. Once the CREF is constructed and complete, the subscriber organization receives final interconnection approval from Pepco.
  5. At the end of each month, Pepco calculates how much energy the CREF has produced and divides that production among the individual subscribers, based on the allocation indicated by the subscriber organization.

What is the value of electricity generated from community solar?

The credit rate for community solar was established through a long Public Service Commission process. Currently, this rate is less than full 1:1 net metered credits. This less than full rate has meant no community solar projects have started in D.C. because subscribers would not get a fair rate.

In June of 2016, the D.C. Council passed a fix to this problem in its 2017 budget. This fix partially restores the full retail distribution rate credit for power sent back into the grid from CREFs (Community Renewable Energy Facilities). The tweak to the statute restores full 1:1 credit to residential customer subscribers, raising the generation credit rate from its current 6¢/kWh to the more accurate 14¢/kWh. We are hopeful this full rate credit will come in to force by the end of this year. The PSC the will develop the new full credit rate in the following manner:

The Commission is reviewing the language of the law and the Committee Report and will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) to make any required revisions in the definition of the “CREF credit rate” for residential customers in the Commission’s current rules to make it consistent with the definition in the new legislation. Under the Commission’s normal rulemaking process: the public will have 30 days to comment on the NOPR with an additional 15 days for reply comments; the Commission will issue any revised NOPR as needed; and the Commission will take final action on any new rules in a timely manner.

Currently, the credit rate equals the Standard Offer Service (SOS) rate for General Service Low Voltage Non-Demand Customer (Schedule GS-LV-ND ) class or its successor, as determined by the PSC. As the chart below shows, the credit rate is the sum of the volumetric (kWh) rates for generation and transmission services. Even though, community solar is a form of self consumption (you make it – you use it), the current rate does not include credit for distribution or taxes and services.

BILLING MONTHS
7/2016 – 10/2016
BILLING MONTHS
11/2016 – 5/2017
Generation – all kWh $ 0.06790 $ 0.06827
Administrative charge $ 0.00300 $ 0.00300
Transmission – all kWh $ 0.00550 $ 0.00550
Total CREF credit rate $ 0.07640 $ 0.07677

Additional resources

DC SUN intervention documents

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