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Distributed Energy Resources

Wide variety of public power utilities participate in community solar working group

A wide variety of public power utilities are participating in a working group that will help them develop a business case for an exploratory or site-specific community solar project.

The American Public Power Association (APPA) is a partner in the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP), an initiative led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  

As a leader in the NCSP Municipal Utility Collaborative, APPA works with stakeholders to identify and address common barriers to community-based solar. Technical assistance is provided by DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as participants seek to create and demonstrate practical, effective, and scalable community solar models.

Public power entities participating in the working group are: Columbia Water & Light (Columbia, Mo.), Longmont Power & Communications (Longmont, Colo.), Village of Minster (Minster, Ohio), Northern California Power Agency (a joint action agency representing 16 members based in Roseville, CA), Riverside Public Utilities (Riverside, Calif.), Seattle City Light (Washington State) and Vernon County Energy District (Readstown, Wis.).

The public power utilities vary widely in terms of customers served, experience with solar energy projects and motivations for pursuing community solar.

“Vernon County Energy District’s mission is to help communities and individuals transition to locally owned and operated renewable energy sources. Instead of sending energy dollars out of the county and out of the state, community solar will help make economic rejuvenation more likely in our rural communities,” said Samantha Laskowski, Vice-President of Vernon County Energy District.

Community solar is one way to “retain energy dollars in our local communities and to support local ownership when folks can’t afford or can’t install renewables on their own. It is also a good way for low and middle income folks to get access to renewable energy,” she said.

“We have been pursuing the idea of community solar for a number of years and we believe we have many pieces of the puzzle in place. However, there are still barriers that need to be overcome and we hope that participating in the Municipal Utility Working Group will help us develop concrete and achievable ways to overcome those barriers,” Laskowski said. “Financing remains a tough nut to crack. Also, weatherization and improving energy efficiency are critical to reduce the rural household energy burden and ultimately make community solar more affordable.”

“Renewable energy plays a significant role in our long-term utility planning,” said Brandon Renaud, Utility Services Manager at Columbia Water & Light. “As part of that plan, we are working to expand direct access to renewable energy throughout the community,” he said.

“We are participating in the community solar Municipal Utility Working Group to gain insights into best practices, lessons learned, and exploring how other municipal utilities are expanding access to solar energy to benefit their communities,” he said.

The Village of Minster has installed two utility scale solar arrays within the last year “and this has put us at the forefront of utilizing renewables in west central Ohio.  These utility size solar arrays were installed to help the village keep energy costs low for our customers,” said Donald Harrod, Village Administrator.

He said that community solar “is the next logical step to continue our push to offer various options to our customers, so they can better control their monthly energy costs. In addition, many customers cannot afford or choose not to put rooftop solar on their homes, community solar gives those customers the opportunity to participate in a solar project at a more personalized level.”

Harrod was also asked to detail the key objectives that the Village of Minster hopes to meet through its participation in the Municipal Utility Working Group.

The key objective that the village hopes to achieve is the development of a program “that will allow our customers to participate in a solar program and give them better control over energy costs. We believe that by participating in the Working Group,  the village will be able to garner knowledge from others in the group to help us customize a program that will enable the village to implement a successful community solar program for our customers,” he said. 

Working sessions for the working group kicked off with the first meeting on April 28. The working sessions will occur monthly through the end of 2021.

Additional details on the NCSP and community solar resources offered by APPA are available here.