Maryland could soon be one of only 11 US states with community solar programs, as the state’s Public Service Commission has just approved its final regulations for establishing a three-year pilot community solar program, which are expected to be published in the coming weeks and become final in mid-July.
By allowing more residents, especially low and moderate income residents, as well as those without ownership of their roofs or who live in multi-unit buildings, to participate in the solar energy revolution, Maryland’s community solar program could enable a more inclusive renewable energy ecosystem in the state. Part of the new community solar regulations speak directly to that inclusiveness, with about 30% (60 MW) of the state’s community solar cap (200 MW) being set aside for low to moderate income residents.
In addition to increasing access to solar for the lower income demographic, Maryland’s new community solar program will also encourage the development of shared solar projects on brownfields, parking lots, and industrial areas, which could help communities to reap value from sites that have historically been taken out of circulation, so to speak, by either environmental damage or because their existing uses aren’t well suited to the development of conventional solar projects.
The adoption of community solar in Maryland is also expected to diversify the state’s energy mix, add to Maryland’s RPS goals, and spur investment in the solar industry in the state, while potentially keeping electricity rates affordable for all electricity customers in the state.
“This pilot program will implement the General Assembly’s desire to increase access to solar electricity for all Maryland ratepayers, especially low and moderate income customers. In addition, it will encourage private investment in Maryland’s solar industry and diversify the state’s energy resource mix to meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act goals.” – W. Kevin Hughes, PSC Chairman
The push to begin implementing community solar programs in Maryland got its start in 2015, when Earthjustice collaborated with a coalition of solar industry groups and community solar groups to pass bipartisan legislation to make it happen. The nonprofit environmental law organization worked with the Maryland Solar United Neighborhoods organization to help usher the legislation through the Maryland General Assembly in 2015, and was able to make recommendations to the bill to make it viable and effective.
“Done the right way, community solar projects strengthen communities, clean up our air, speed our transition to 100 percent renewable energy — all while keeping utility bills affordable. The adopted regulations should greatly expand access to solar energy for Marylanders, especially for low and moderate income communities.” – Susan Stevens Miller, Staff Attorney in Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program
The community solar pilot program regulations are expected to be published in the Maryland Register on July 8, 2016, and to go into effect 10 days later. According to Earthjustice, once the PSC approves the utility tariffs, developers can begin the project submission process, so we could be seeing community solar projects harvesting sunshine in the state as soon as later this year.