As the Community Choice Energy movement sweeps across California, local governments, solar vendors, and existing and prospective solar customers are asking themselves: how does Community Choice affect my solar project and vice versa.
This page is intended to help answer some of these questions. Fortunately, it’s pretty much all good news for both solar stakeholders and Community Choice proponents who are, most often, one and the same.
Community Choice is a vehicle that empowers communities to reflect their values in the policies and programs the agency adopts. It is important that solar stakeholders and advocates engage in the discussions about emerging Community Choice agencies and remain engaged once an agency is up and running to ensure that the policies and programs it adopts are favorable to local solar.
For Local Governmental Leaders
If you are reading this, you are evaluating, or perhaps already embracing, Community Choice Energy.
One of the most powerful aspects of Community Choice is that it redirects an existing stream in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars annually into local control. There are many ways that these funds can be harnessed to increase the deployment rate of solar energy in your community, thereby fostering the local economic benefits that such activity brings.
- Lower customer costs for energy mean that those customers can more easily invest in rooftop solar for their homes and businesses
- Net revenues accrued by the Community Choice agency can be reinvested in the community in the form of customer incentives such as increased generation credits, community education programs supporting residential solar, and community-scale solar infrastructure development
For a detailed look at the economic benefits of local solar, see the Center for Climate Protection’s “Community Choice Energy: What is the Local Economic Impact?” The report focuses on the degree to which a Community Choice agency can foster solar deployment and the resulting economic benefits of successively larger percentages of local solar.
Community Choice Program Examples (click to expand)
Net Energy Metering (NEM) – The key financial arrangement that provides bill credits for power produced and used by a customer and may compensate solar customers for surplus clean power fed to the grid.
- Sonoma Clean Power’s “NetGreen” Program
- MCE Clean Energy’s “Rooftop Solar Customers”
- Lancaster Choice Energy’s “Personal Choice” Program
- Peninsula Clean Energy “Solar Customers”
Feed-in Tariff (FiT) – Attractive wholesale purchase rate structures to support larger scale, usually up to about one megawatt, solar generation projects, appropriately sited within the community served. Examples:
Community Solar – Single larger installations that serve multiple customers who for whatever reason can’t install solar at their own residence.
- Marin Clean Energy’s “Local Sol”program
On-bill Repayment (OBR) – Provides a convenient means of financing solar by facilitating convenient payment for the system on the monthly utility bill.
For Residential, Business, and Industrial Customers
As an energy consumer – and producer – your support for the formation and operation of Community Choice has many specific potential benefits to you as a customer and solar energy producer:
- Your Community Choice agency may offer specific rate structures that compensate you for the energy you produce at a rate that exceeds that of the big utility.
- Your Community Choice agency derives revenue from the sale of energy to you its customers, funds which are retained in your community. These funds may in turn be invested in local solar programs and projects such as increased incentives, community scale solar facilities, public solar, multi-family and affordable housing solar rate structures, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Community Choice brings a local, public electricity service provider that can empower you, the solar advocate. You are encouraged to support solar-friendly Community Choice efforts in your region.
For Solar Vendors
In the early days of Community Choice, some solar vendors were concerned that Community Choice represented new competition to their industry. Fortunately, with five operational Community Choice agencies since 2010, all with policies and programs that support increased solar deployment, Competition is a ‘C’ word that does not apply. There are however, three other ‘C’ words that do apply to Community Choice as it relates to solar:
- Collaborator – Community Choice agencies may serve as a collaborator when it can engage and assist on solar projects conceived or initiated in the public and private sector.
- Coordinator – At times a Community Choice agency may serve as a coordinator when it takes a leading role in developing solar projects that offer opportunities for solar professionals.
- Customer – A Community Choice agency becomes your customer, or ‘off-taker’, when it buys power fed into the grid via a NEM, standard offer (feed-in tariff, or FiT), or other program from a solar project you have developed.
Another aspect of ‘Collaboration’ is that solar vendors that can organize around the common goal of promoting a solar-friendly Community Choice agency. The vendor community can foster dialogue, improve best practices, and develop friendships that can go a long way toward building the solar industry, developing excellence in work products, and building a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with a Community Choice agency. For an excellent example of such a solar vendor community with a track record of success, visit Solar Sonoma County (www.solarsonomacounty.org)
As a solar professional in your community, you play a unique and important role in educating the public about solar and its ever-changing landscape of incentives and opportunities. Supporting Community Choice programs that in turn support solar can result in key benefits for the whole community.
Below are links to some of the existing solar programs at Community Choice Energy agencies. More programs are emerging all the time so if you know of one that is not here, please let us know!
Sonoma Clean Power:
NetGreen (Net Metering)
ProFiT (Feed-in Tariff)
Lancaster Choice Energy:
Personal Choice (Net Metering)
State-level Solar and Community Choice policy
For more information about the relationship between solar and Community Choice, please contact the Solar Energy Programs Coordinator at the Center for Climate Protection:
Geoffrey D. Smith