Community solar is a collective or sharing model for going solar. In community solar, a large solar array is built and then the benefits are shared among many who are given or purchase or lease individual shares.
Community solar arrays can be hosted and administered by a variety of entities, including utilities, solar developers, residential or commercial landlords, community and nonprofit organizations, or a combination thereof. Currently the two most common models of community solar are: a utility-led community solar, typically open to all customers, that tends to be larger, ground-mounted, and often incorporates a set-aside to low-income community members or supporting organizations, and the non-profit-led community solar, which is generally smaller, often rooftop-mounted and tend to direct a substantial portion of benefits to low-income individuals or supporting organizations.
Community solar is a fantastic option to increase access to solar since it makes solar accessible to people who cannot install their own solar panels because they don’t own their home, or because they don’t have the space, resources, solar orientation, or roof condition necessary to install their own PV system.
Community Solar in Washington
In 2005 the Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Payment Program (Legacy Program) was created to allow an individual, business, or local government that owns an eligible renewable energy system to apply to its electric utility for an investment cost recovery incentive payment for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produced by the system (net-metering). The Legacy Program was expanded in 2009 to include community solar projects, but closed to new customer participants by October 2017.
In 2017 the Washington State University Extension Energy Program (WSU Energy Program) was directed to launch and administer a program known as the Renewable Energy Production Incentive Program (Production Incentive Program) to certify an applicant's eligibility to receive annual production incentive payments for each kWh of alternating current electricity generated by the system. It closed to new project certifications by July 2021.
Under the current Community Solar Expansion Program (2SHB1814), WSU is authorized to administer and implement a new community solar incentive program that provides up to $100 million in payment for community solar projects that offer direct benefits to low-income subscribers, low-income service provider subscribers, and qualifying tribal and public agencies.
A community solar project is defined as a solar energy system of more than 12 kW and no greater than 199 kW and has at least two low-income subscribers or one low-income service provider. A community solar project may include a storage system. Beginning July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2033, an administrator of an eligible community solar project may apply to the WSU Energy Program to receive a precertification for the project.
A qualified administrator could be a utility, nonprofit, tribal housing authority, or other local housing authority. Qualified subscribers are low-income subscribers, low-income service provider subscribers, and tribal and public agency subscribers.
If the WSU Energy Program approves the precertification, within two years the project must be completed and the administrator must apply for certification. If the WSU Energy Program then certifies a project, the utility serving the site of a community solar project is authorized to remit a one-time low-income community solar incentive payment to the administrator. The administrator accepts the payment on behalf of, and for the purpose of providing direct benefits to, the project's qualifying subscribers.
The WSU Energy Program may certify community solar projects to receive one-time incentive payments up to $100 million of which $2 million must be used to support nonprofit organizations' innovative approaches to allocating benefits to subscribers or building partnerships; and $2 million must be available to tribal governments.
In 2021, the Washington State Department of Commerce Solar Deployment Grant Program allocated $3.7 million in grants for nine solar energy projects across the state that support low-income community solar deployment.
Recent Community Solar Projects in Washington
More Examples of Community Solar Projects
|The Anacortes Public Library community solar system was funded by Skagit Community Solar Projects using an LLC model under the legacy incentive program. Link to project details.
|Benton PUD has two Community Solar Projects: The Ely Community Solar Project in Kennewick and the Old Inland Empire Community Solar Project in Prosser. Link to project details.
|Clark Public Utilities has five Community Solar projects adjacent to one another on-site at the utility Operations Center in Orchards. The location was chosen for its prime solar exposure, visibility and cost-effective proximity to existing electrical infrastructure. The arrays began generating electricity to the Clark Public Utilities electric grid in June 2015. Link to project details.
|Friends of the Olympia Farmers Market installed a community owned solar system atop the Olympia Farmer’s Market building in 2011. Link to project details.
|The Decatur Island Community Solar project from Orcas Power & Light Co-Op is on 3.6 acres at the Decatur substation. It began harvesting energy in July of 2018. It is expected to produce around 570,000 kwH annually. Approximately 270 OPALCO members own shares in this project. Link to project details.
|Puget Sound Energy's Solar Choice program offers customers the option of benefitting from solar energy generated at different locations within its service territory. Examples include Greenbank Farm Community Solar on Whidbey Island and the Kingston Community Solar project. Link to project details.
|Seattle City Light has four community solar projects with 1300 participants and generating 190,000 kilowatt hours of solar power annually including the Capitol Hill Housing (CHH), for its fourth Community Solar project (pictured left). Link to project details.
|This community solar array pictured left is located in Arlington, WA as part of the Arlington Microgrid Project by Snohomish County Public Utility District #1. The Arlington Microgrid and Clean Energy Technology Center project represents a new technology and approach that offers grid resiliency and renewable energy integration. Link to project details.
|In 2014, Seattle City Light partnered with Woodland Park Zoo and the Phinney Neighborhood Association to install the state’s largest community solar project. The Community Solar on Phinney Ridge project was designed for a system of about 74 kilowatts on the roofs of two buildings at the zoo and PNA’s Phinney Center. It is expected to produce more than 75,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
|Spokane Valley-based Vera Water & Power first Community Solar project was installed back in 2016. Link to project details.