Distributed Energy Resources

California Energy Commission approves SMUD’s community solar program

The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s community solar program.

SMUD on Feb. 20 noted that the program, which is called Neighborhood SolarShares, came to fruition after the CEC approved 2019 building standards that require all new low-rise residential homes under three stories high to be built with solar starting in 2020.

The CEC noted that the standards provide for CEC Commissioners to consider approving community solar programs based on the following requirements:

  • Enforcement: The solar resource must exist at the time the home is permitted and the applicant must work in coordination with the building department for review and enforcement;
  • Energy Performance: The energy savings must match that of rooftop solar;
  • Dedicated Energy Savings: The generated solar must be dedicated to the building;
  • Durability: Proposed facilities must be operational for 20 years;
  • Additionality: Savings cannot be counted to meet other utility renewable requirements; and
  • Accountability and Recordkeeping: An applicant must keep records and make them accessible for 20 years

CEC commissioners voted unanimously that the Neighborhood SolarShares program meets each of these requirements.

Neighborhood SolarShares has received the support of 33 legislators, the Sacramento Metro Chamber, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sacramento Tree Foundation, labor, builders, low-income housing advocates and more, SMUD said.

The Neighborhood SolarShares program is intended to provide a compliance option to the new home marketplace, SMUD noted.

The program includes a 20-year agreement with the developer under which SMUD provides solar energy to customers from solar arrays connected to the grid. Occupants of the homes must participate in the program until the 20-year term is over and will receive an annual net benefit of about $10 per kilowatt per year. SMUD will collaborate with builders to offer either community solar or rooftop solar at the point of purchase.

All of the solar provided to the program will come from within SMUD’s service territory. SMUD will only use solar resources that are 20 megawatts or less.

SMUD will rely on the 13-MW Wildflower solar farm, which is under development, after it comes online in November 2020. Wildflower will be large enough to supply SMUD’s Neighborhood SolarShares program demand for many years, CEC staff noted.

Prior to November 2020, SMUD will meet initial program demand by using existing 1-5 MW feed-in-Tariff resources. SMUD will develop additional, smaller-than-20 MW solar resources to meet program demand after Wildflower becomes fully subscribed, CEC staff said.

SMUD said that benefits of the Neighborhood SolarShares program include:

  • Removing the long-term maintenance and replacement cost risks of rooftop solar.
  • Allowing for “tree-friendly” developments, keeping the canopy, while increasing shade, and reducing energy usage for home cooling.
  • Guaranteed monthly solar energy for 20 years, even during rainy periods or cloudy weather that does not deteriorate over time like output from rooftop solar systems.

SMUD’s Neighborhood SolarShares program also provides community environmental benefits. For example, it noted that community solar systems are more economical. “They deliver more energy per dollar spent on the generation system -- effectively maximizing a community’s clean energy investment,” the public power utility said.

Moreover, community solar systems are well-maintained and monitored, and can be easily oriented to provide more clean solar energy at times when the solar energy is more valuable, SMUD pointed out.

SMUD noted that it will continuously monitor the operation of all solar generation feeding the Neighborhood SolarShares program.

SMUD has offered SolarShares programs for several years

SMUD has offered SolarShares programs for existing customers for many years, with its commitment to solar and other renewable energy sources dating back decades.

SMUD developed the world’s first commercial-scale solar photovoltaic power plant in 1984, the first solar-powered electric vehicle charging station in the western United States in 1992 and the first net-zero energy community in midtown Sacramento, featuring rooftop solar and batteries.

SMUD noted that it has supported and incented the growth of the rooftop solar industry for many years.

To date, 210 MW of customer-owned rooftop solar has been installed in SMUD’s service area, and its energy portfolio includes over 170 MW of utility-scale solar.

Over the next three years, SMUD will bring nearly 270 MW of new utility-scale solar online.

SMUD’ recently adopted integrated resource plan includes over 1,500 MW of added utility-scale solar and we expect to reach over 500 MW of customer-installed solar over the next 20 years. Nearly 1,000 MW of the new utility-scale solar is planned to be built locally.

SMUD is also spending over $20 million in the next few years on distribution system software and infrastructure to be able to manage and accommodate the expected increases in renewable energy resources such as rooftop solar.

SMUD’s current energy portfolio is on average 50 percent carbon free and will grow to 80 percent carbon free by 2030.