Recognizing the growing demand for community solar solutions, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) has produced a Community Renewable Power Proposal (PDF). The proposal lays out best practices and rules for what could be a policy guide to "co-investment in local renewable power facilities".
The proposal addresses the need for regulating a growing sector of the renewable energy market. There are two main reasons for the growing popularity of community renewable energy, in which multiple participants may own a generating facility off-site. The first reason is that many individual sites are not suitable for solar panel installations (or wind turbines, or geothermal drilling, et al.), but property owners may still be passionate about clean energy for any number of reasons: energy independence, utility savings, or unique investment opportunities. The second reason is that renters, or tenants of multi-unit buildings including commercial spaces, may not have the authority to install a renewable energy system on their building or grounds.
Facilitating community solar purchasing is especially important where densely populated urban areas translate into high energy prices and a high incidence of property rental and leasing. For instance, a Boston-based group called New Generation Energy offers low interest loans for solar installations throughout New England, targeted towards low-income housing communities, small businesses, and non-profits (including schools and churches). Programs in Sacramento, California and in Colorado have begun to address this issue, too.
Some of the key points of IREC's proposal are:
- All customer classes of an individual utility may participate, and a single project's owners may be from different utility classes--so, home renters and small business owners could get together on a project
- Participants will pay for interconnection costs to the grid
- Energy produced may be consumed on site, and/or sold back to the grid for credits in a virtual net metering process
- Renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the system remain with the system owners
- To cut down on headaches for the utility, it may put all participants on the same billing and credit cycle; and changes in participant allocation can't be made more than once a month
- Each owner within the owning group may finance individually
- Jointly owned renewable energy projects should still be eligible for all state and federal financial incentives
- Participants may choose any available retail rate structure through the utility
- Eligible technologies shall include solar PV, biomass, geothermal, wind, ocean, hydroelectric or hydrogen energy generating systems
For decades, non-profit IREC has been facilitating renewable energy policy creation and adoption for governments and utilities, while keeping an eye on the best interests of the consumer. In the absence of strong federal regulation for renewables, guidelines like what IREC is proposing here give the industry a best-practices touchstone and can provide a framework for state policies.