There are 2,600 megawatts of solar power capacity installed in the U.S. today that can be considered community solar, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). That is a little less than 5% of all solar capacity in the country, and it is also not very widespread—only three states, Minnesota, Florida and Massachusetts, account for over half of that community solar capacity.
New legislation has just been proposed in Michigan (House Bills 4715 and 4716) that could overcome the hurdles facing community solar, and, potentially, help demonstrate how other states can do the same.
It is a shame that community solar is so limited because the concept addresses a real problem: it gives people who would not be able to install solar panels themselves on their own residences access to solar energy. Your roof is too small, you rent and do not own, you do not have disposable cash for a down payment on a solar array—the reasons are many, but community solar helps solve these problems. In concept, community solar allows people who otherwise can’t use solar power to access the benefits of solar panels: having a source of clean energy that also cuts down your electric bills. The concept works, so why is it not more widespread?
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A number of states lack a policy framework that makes community solar broadly feasible, especially for customers of investor-owned utilities. Michigan is one of those states where, by NREL’s account, community solar adds up to less than 6% of the total solar capacity.
The Makings of a Good Community Solar Program
Many customers in Michigan, including those of utilities like DTE and Consumers Energy, don’t have access to locally driven, locally sited community solar projects. That’s why the Michigan