The way I put it for Utility Dive is worth repeating, “Policies that keep utilities from working effectively with developers could be a lost opportunity.” Time and again, members of the CSVP team and I have been to workshops and events where the topic will touch on community-solar policies, and the utilities are missing. Likewise, the utility folks, who just a few years ago were very excited about community solar, often see “policy” on the agenda for a community solar event, and read it as a trigger warning for an ensuing a heap of trouble.
The Dive article itself demonstrated how broad utility participation could make community solar better. Author Herman K. Trabish, briefly recognized that there are numerous ways to add value, before jumping on a current favorite: project siting, or “locational value.” While that’s a worthy value, let me reiterate four different areas where utility-led community solar programs add value:
- Solar project siting and design,
- Financing and procurement,
- Target marketing, and
- Co-marketing with solar-plus companion measures
While I read Herman's article with great interest and respect (It’s complicated!), the fledgling community solar industry would be severely short-changing itself to put too much emphasis on locational value—or on any one strategy—alone. The challenge of entering a new landscape of integrated, distributed energy resources (DERs) is that it is an ever-changing place. A suitable local solar site with high locational value is rare and likely to change within the life of the project you put there. But a combination of technical and programmatic strategies, devised by utility- and developer-based innovators working together, could bring benefits that complete a solar-portfolio triad, along with with third-party rooftop solar and centralized utility-solar resources. What would a fleet of distributed community-solar projects, incorporating diverse benefits and net high-value, look like? How could utilities work with one or more developers over time to bring this about, with a greater long-run payoff for everyone?
If you’re interested in this discussion, our October webinar on the Value of Going Local provides a glimpse of a new analytic strategy that takes into account a few different value-add strategies, while avoiding the traps of a conventional (utility trigger warning!) Value of Solar analysis. We also recommend that if you want to learn more about the policies that do or do-not promote community solar innovation, we’ve had a webinar on that, too, featuring NRRI’s incisive policy analyst, Tom Stanton. You can replay the webinar or download the presentations here.
At CSVP, we are ready to embark on our third year. We’ve accumulated lessons learned and a list of questions that need resolution in order to support a thriving community-solar movement. One thing we know for sure: We need both utilities and developers to solve problems together, and we need regulators to let them.