Can’t install your own solar panels? In some areas you can join a community project.

For four generations, Steve Wine’s family has operated a 600-acre farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, raising cattle and growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The farm has struggled in recent years with rising costs and dwindling crop markets, leaving Wine questioning the viability of his business.

In an effort to keep the farm going, Wine will begin harvesting a up-to-date crop in the coming months: solar energy. He leased 34 acres to a solar power company, which installed panels that generated about 5 megawatts of power during peak hours. The project is funded by contributions from approximately 1,000 households in the region, which will receive relief on their electricity bills based on the energy produced.

“It’s the steady income we know it will be,” Wine said. “I love farming and we had to use this option to ease that burden.”

An energy model known as community solar is growing across the country. It allows people renting homes or unable to install roof panels on their own properties to subscribe to medium-sized solar projects on nearby farms, schools or large-format stores.

While subscription methods may vary, industry groups say a typical monthly subscription of $120 to $135 could ultimately save participants $15 to $30 per month. For many, the savings can range from 5% to 20% of their electricity bill.

According to one developer, it could cost owners about $30,000 a year to install properties with solar panels.

Supporters say community solar can play an crucial role in spreading tidy energy and provide low-income households with relief on energy costs. While definitions may vary, the industry trade group Coalition for Community Solar Access says 20 states have policies enabling “true” community solar that require utilities to credit the electricity bills of households that subscribe to solar projects that they are not built or operated by the media itself.

This year, lawmakers in at least 10 states have introduced bills that would enable or expand community solar programs, thanks in part to federal funding opportunities under the Inflation Reduction Act. Citing consumer choice and affordability, a growing number of Republican lawmakers are sponsoring such proposals, including in seven of these states.

However, some bills have stalled due to mighty opposition from utilities, which argued that community solar programs do not account for costs such as billing overhead and distribution fees that are passed on to non-subscribers.

“All other utility customers cannot subsidize the benefits of those who subscribe to community solar projects,” said Zach Hill, general manager of public and community affairs at Alliant Energy, a Midwest utility that opposes the Wisconsin legislation. “There is no consumer protection [in the bill]”

‘It works’

Earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers passed bills to expand the state’s solar program by 200 megawatts, enough to power more than 30,000 homes, as well as allow projects in up-to-date areas of the state.

The state’s initial program, created in 2022, was restricted to and approaching 150 megawatts. According to November performance by consulting group Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, more than 12,000 households will join the program this year and receive bill credits worth a total of $19 million, or an average of about $130 per household per month.

These projects lend a hand farmland owners maintain their farms, lower costs for ratepayers, and enable everyone across the state to participate in the tidy energy transition.

– Democratic Virginia Del. Rip Sullivan

Like many community solar programs, Virginia’s solution exempts or reduces subscription costs for low-income customers while reserving a certain number of memberships for such households. So far, the entire program has covered low-income households.

“The fact that we ran into a limitation shows that there is demand for it and it works,” Del said. Rip Sullivan, the Democrat who sponsored the expansion measures this session. “These projects help farmland owners maintain their farms, lower costs for ratepayers and enable everyone across the state to participate in our transition to clean energy.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the Sullivan Act into law last month.

As Virginia’s program expands, other states are considering creating their own. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives introduced a bill that would create a community solar program in the state. The measure, supported by a mix of Democrats and Republicans, was recently referred to a Senate committee.

During the discussion between trade unionists and ecologists, the Pa alliance. House Blue-Green debuts on the legislative agenda

Some Pennsylvania utilities worked with lawmakers to develop the proposal. Brian Ahrens, senior communications specialist for PECO, the state’s largest electric and natural gas utility, said the company supports the measure in principle but is concerned about an amendment that would prevent utilities from recovering costs such as power distribution expenses photovoltaic. He said PECO intends to continue to engage in discussions until the bill reaches the Senate.

“We would like to see this and it is a benefit to our customers,” Ahrens said. “We want to ensure that [projects] pay a fair share of the costs necessary to use our distribution system.”

Many of the state proposals for this session were sponsored by Republican lawmakers, including those from Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“The trend we’ve seen over the last few years is that more and more red states are taking over these bills,” said Brandon Smithwood, vice president of policy at Dimension Renewable Energy, an Atlanta developer that has built community solar projects in 11 states. “There is an appetite for smaller, locally controlled projects that can deliver savings for customers.”

Utility battles

In Michigan, Republican state Sen. Ed McBroom is among the leaders supporting community solar legislation.

“I do what I can to provide value to consumers who are paying way too high,” he said. “This allows people to tap into the solar market on a small scale.”

McBroom said the proposal has been met with opposition from utilities, whose leaders say the costs of integrating solar will drive up rates. He questioned the sincerity of their concerns about the impact on consumers. He said Senate Democratic leaders have pledged to hold hearings on the issue.

Consumers Energy, a Michigan-based utility, did not agree to an interview.

Community solar advocates say utilities are a common obstacle to such proposals.

“[Utilities] they would rather have a monopoly on the grid and they have their claws all over the political ecosystem,” said Matt Hargarten, director of public affairs at the Coalition for Community Solar.

Utilities in Wisconsin effectively oppose community solar proposal from Senate Republicans. In an interview, Alliant Energy officials said the Wisconsin solution does not include safeguards to ensure the projects find enough subscribers before they are built. Utility leaders worried that the proposal would force them to buy electricity from projects that didn’t have enough subscribers to be profitable.

Alliant also pointed to its own subscription solar programs offered to customers in Wisconsin and Iowa.

Proponents, however, argue that such utility programs are not really community solar programs because they do not achieve the scale and cost savings offered by third-party developers.

“It is important to create a competitive market that allows developers to develop non-public projects,” said Maria McCoy, a researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower local communities. “Subscribers should save their money and not pay a premium.”

This year in Washington, D.C., Democratic Rep. David Hackney introduced a community solar bill that was quickly met with opposition. He acknowledged that utilities in the state have raised legitimate consumer protection concerns that need to be addressed before the issue can advance to the next session.

“The idea of ​​community solar is still alive,” he said. “Hard legislative work leads to an agreement acceptable to both sides.”

Among the concerns of utility companies was the possibility of their subscribers being exploited by incompetent or dishonest programmers, and as a result, utilities would have to face the wrath of customers.

“We were the ones they were going to turn to because we are the ones who add these fees and credits to their bills,” said Heather Mulligan, manager of renewable energy customer programs at Puget Sound Energy. “We are very open to continuing the conversation and finding ways to support the development of community solar in a way that ensures oversight by all parties involved.”

state line is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Stateline maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, please contact editor Scott S. Greenberger: [email protected]. Keep following Stateline Facebook AND Twitter.

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