Community Solar Pilot in Maryland
An Excellent Fit for Maryland Housing Authorities
Last month the Maryland Public Service Commission promulgated legislation to enable implementation of the Maryland Community Solar Pilot, passed as Chapter 347 by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor in the summer of 2015. The legislation commits to providing 30% of the pilot program for exclusive use of low-income communities.
What is Community Solar?
Community solar projects, sometimes called community solar gardens, expand access to renewable energy by allowing multiple housing unit owners to invest in or subscribe to a solar energy project and offset a portion of their electric bill from the energy generated through a credit. More than 50 community renewable energy projects are currently operating in 17 states.
A community solar project is an array of solar panels constructed in a field, or installed on the roof of an apartment building, a box store, or any place where there is good solar access. A solar project developer obtains the land or building site, installs the panels, and then finds investors or subscribers to pay for the panels through a power-purchase agreement (PPA). The subscribers generally live off site but get credit on their home utility bill for the solar power generated by the panels they have purchased. The Maryland Community Solar Pilot allows for projects up to 2 MW, as long as no single participant or subscriber utilizes more than 200 kw (equivalent to approximately 65 apartment units).
How Does it Benefit Housing Authorities?
Aside from expanding access to clean sources of energy, and thus reducing a housing authority’s carbon footprint, housing authorities benefit from the economic advantage of lower electricity rates. These benefits are retained by local agencies, committed to by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its 2014 Rate Reduction Incentive announcement (PIH-2014-18, Guidance on On-Site Utility Technologies and the Rate Reduction Incentive in Public Housing).
Subscribers to a community solar project buy “shares” of the community solar installation, which represents a percentage of the power produced by the system each month. Subscribers then receive credits on their electricity bill from their power provider for the power produced by their share of the solar system. These credits may be in the form of energy (kilowatt-hours) or dollars. Subscribers can generally expect to reduce total electricity costs by 5-10%, depending on subscription type.
No-Cost Expert Technical Assistance
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) in 2014 provides no-cost technical assistance to housing authorities for energy efficiency and renewables technology adoption. Under the DOE contract, MEA has partnered with Clean Energy Solutions (CESI) and Enlightened Energy, two nationally eminent consulting firms, to work with housing authorities interested in reducing energy consumption and/or producing clean energy. Six housing agencies have taken advantage of no-cost technical assistance to date, and the Maryland Association of Housing and Redevelopment Agencies has promoted the technical assistance program at its annual conferences at Ocean City.
MEA’s consultants, CESI and Enlightened Energy, are seeking interested public housing agencies for participation in the program. Once an agency commits to a feasibility study for the program, we will seek other community residents in adjacent neighborhoods with the assistance of organizations like Maryland’s Solar United Neighborhoods (MD SUN), a nonprofit solar advocacy and technical assistance provider. Once we have a project of 500 KW or larger (about 150 households), we can solicit bids from a Maryland-based solar developer. The developer will locate suitable sites, arrange for financing, install the panels, arrange for the billing and credits, and assure their operations. The fact that Maryland also has a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) statute expands the options for low cost financing of the projects. Enlightened Energy and CESI will work with participating public housing agencies to seek approvals from the HUD Field Office for Rate Reduction Incentive applications.
Enlightened Energy Consultants
Clean Energy Solutions, Inc.