Oregon’s Decision to Establish Retail Rate Credit for Community Solar is Important Step Forward

May 24th, 2018

Solar industry warns that more adjustments and smooth program transitions are needed to support consumer access to solar in critical regions

Salem, OR – State and national solar energy advocates today expressed support for the Oregon Public Utilities Commission’s decision to adopt a retail credit rate for community solar projects. The solar industry believes the decision is an important step toward launching community solar in Oregon by the end of 2018, with a simple and financeable credit rate that will enable a set of community solar projects to move forward. Simultaneously, however, the solar industry warned that the decision doesn’t fully level the playing field for consumers without access to rooftop solar and could leave critical populations within Oregon, such as Portland, without access to community solar projects. The industry is also concerned about a potential gap in community solar availability for customers if regulators do not create a clear runway for transitioning to the next phase of the program.

Community solar refers to local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credits on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.  Community solar provides homeowners, renters, and businesses equal access to the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy generation regardless of the physical attributes or ownership of their home or business.  Community solar expands access to solar for all, including low-to-moderate income customers, all while building a stronger, distributed, and more resilient electric grid.

In 2016, Oregon passed legislation to create a state-wide community solar program intended to give more Oregonians the ability to access solar. With today’s decision, the Commission recognized that values currently proposed by the electric utility companies for the Resource Value of Solar (RVOS) are artificially low and that customers needed a higher credit rate to spur the development of community solar projects. According to the decision, community solar customers will receive a fixed credit that will match the current retail rate and will not rise with inflation.  Unlike customers with rooftop solar systems, whose credits for the solar they generate rise as their utility rates rise, community solar customers will receive a credit that stays flat over time while their utility rates rise. In its Order, the Commission establishes this interim rate for about 40 megawatts (MW) of program capacity, which – if economically viable – could be enough to serve over 2,500 home and business customers. However, 10 of those 40 megawatts are set aside for projects smaller than 360 kilowatts (kW), and these smaller projects may not be viable at the rate set by the Commission. The credit rate may also be too low to support projects in Portland General Electric’s service territory and the small capacity allocation of 40 MW may mean the program stalls as it transitions to a yet-to-be-determined credit rate.

“The Commission’s move to adopt an interim credit rate is an important step to spur development of community solar projects that will provide more access to Oregonians who have not been able to enjoy the same economic and environmental benefits as their neighbors with rooftop solar,” said Brandon Smithwood, policy director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “However, today’s decision does not fully level the playing field and falls short of what is needed to enable consumers across the state to go solar and save on their electric bills. Without further adjustments to the rate and associated program rules, community solar projects may not be economically viable in large population centers, such as Portland. We look forward to working with the Commission and other stakeholders to create a program that works for all of Oregon’s diverse communities.”

“The commission took a critical step toward opening up community solar to Oregonians, but it’s just the beginning,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Low-cost, reliable solar power should be afforded the entire state, and we look forward to continuing to see expanded public access to solar resources.”

“We applaud the commission taking a major step toward implementing Oregon’s community solar program” said Jon Miller, executive director of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA). “Although we have some concerns about the ability of a flat 20-year incentive with no escalator to serve low income customers and small community solar projects, we believe establishing an interim rate now is important to getting the program up and running in 2018.”

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About CCSA:

The Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) is a national Coalition of businesses and non-profits working to expand customer choice and access to solar to all American households and businesses through community solar. Community solar refers to local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credits on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.  Community solar provides homeowners, renters, and businesses equal access to the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy generation regardless of the physical attributes or ownership of their home or business.  Community solar expands access to solar for all, including low-to-moderate income customers, all while building a stronger, distributed, and more resilient electric grid.  For more information, visit our website at www.communitysolaraccess.org, follow us on Twitter at @solaraccess and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/communitysolaraccess.

About SEIA®:

Celebrating its 44th anniversary in 2018, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry, which now employs more than 250,000 Americans. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America.  SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to build jobs and diversity, champion the use of cost-competitive solar in America, remove market barriers and educate the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org.

About OSEIA:

The Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association is a trade association founded in 1981to promote clean, renewable solar technologies. OSEIA members include businesses non-profit groups, and other solar industry stakeholders. Our mission is to make solar energy a significant energy source and expand markets by strengthening the industry and developing a skilled and stable workforce.