Get Shared Solar Near You: The How-To Toolkit for Your Community
Resources for Connecticut communities and groups to make renewable energy available to all
Four out of five Connecticut residents can’t benefit from rooftop solar. Shared solar is the solution (read more about it here), and our new Shared Solar Toolkit can show you how. Read on for steps you can take to bring shared solar to your community, or download a PDF version of the toolkit.
Shared solar, also known as community solar, allows any electricity customer to get their power from large solar projects located away from their homes, with savings automatically credited to their monthly bills.
Shared solar has the potential to exponentially grow green power: 4 out of 5 residents cannot install solar at their homes because they rent, live in multi-family homes, or don’t have the right roof or too much shade.
In 2018, Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE) and many others won legislative approval for a Connecticut shared solar program. The law (Section 7 of Public Act 18-50) allows up to 25 megawatts (MW) per year of shared solar for six years, starting in January 2020. Details about the program are being worked out by state agencies during 2019, with input from the public and groups like CFE. 2019 legislation may expand the program further.
But there’s no reason to wait—there’s lots we can do today to get shared solar rolling in Connecticut.
This toolkit is for groups and communities that want to start shared solar projects. It has five sections; the first two are the most important.
- Get Informed, Build Support, Get Involved
- Identify and Educate Subscribers
- Identify Sites
- Connect with Developers
- Prepare Proposals
Contact us with any questions you have about this toolkit, suggestions for making it more useful, or requests for in-person presentations: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GET INFORMED, BUILD SUPPORT, GET INVOLVED
CFE’s shared solar page has the basics on shared benefits and current status of programs.
CFE’s one-page factsheet explains shared solar in Connecticut.
CFE’s Powerpoint presentation has more details about shared solar in Connecticut, the challenges it faces, and ways members of the public can weigh in on decisions state agencies are making on program details.
EnergySage, a trusted, neutral non-profit, explains shared solar and provides resources.
Scroll down for more resources at the end of the toolkit.
Shared solar is a powerful strategy for expanding renewables, and it’s easy to understand. But most people still don’t know about it. Here are three great ways to increase support for shared solar.
Lift your voice by informing public officials and the general public. Here is an example of a letter you can send your legislators and the editor of your local paper that provides information and asks for their support.
Resolutions. One way to spread the word and ask your town or group to show support for shared solar is a resolution that can be approved by town governments and local groups. Here’s a sample resolution you can adapt for your community.
Petition. Share CFE’s shared solar petition with friends and neighbors.
Between now and January 2020, two state agencies will decide details of the shared solar program. There are opportunities for public involvement in these proceedings. Let us know if you want to be notified at important times: email@example.com.
Here’s how you can follow progress on these proceedings yourself:
- Click here for the shared solar docket at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
- Click here for the shared solar docket, 18-08-03, at the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
Here’s how you can get on the lists to be notified of hearings and other opportunities to comment:
IDENTIFY AND EDUCATE SUBSCRIBERS
Most people want renewable electricity, both to take action on the climate crisis and to control costs. Connecticut residential, business, and government customers pay some of the highest rates in the nation; green power like solar and wind are affordable, predictable, and stable for decades. Large shared solar arrays produce power more cheaply than individual rooftop systems, and shared solar allows subscribers to lock in savings over utilities’ standard rates for decades. As an indication of the cost savings, the pilot projects going online in 2019 are expected to save their customers 10% on their electric bills.
Where to look for subscribers
Shared solar developers and their partners seek out, educate, and sign up subscribers, which can be a lot of work. You can help bring costs down and increase savings by starting the process yourself with groups you belong to or that may be interested, like:
- faith groups
- community groups
- housing associations
- block clubs
- energy, environment, or climate groups
- business groups and Chambers of Commerce
- town governments
- public housing authorities
- school boards
CFE can help groups become more informed by attending gatherings, making presentations and providing materials—email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is eligible?
Connecticut’s law currently restricts who can participate in shared solar (Section 7(a)(7) of Public Act 18-50). Some of the following restrictions could be revised as a result of legislative changes or the DEEP and PURA proceedings now underway.
- Subscribers are currently limited to customers who are:
- low-income or moderate-income, or
- businesses, or
- municipalities or the state, or
- residential customers who can demonstrate that they are “unable” to install solar at their homes (DEEP is setting guidelines that will clarify how they will determine residential customer eligibility; CFE is advocating for broad interpretations to allow as much participation as possible).
- At least 10% of the power from each project must go to low income customers.
- An additional 10% or more of the power must go to either low-income or moderate-income customers, or low-income service organizations.
- No more than 50% of the power can go to commercial customers.
How subscriptions work
Signing up for shared solar is a commitment, though not as big a commitment as installing panels on your roof. The main reason for this is financing—developers borrow money to build solar projects, and lenders need to see solid commitments of sufficient revenue to repay the loans.
Here is a summary of some standard subscriber agreement provisions:
- Agreements are for 20 years.
- Subscribers agree to purchase discounted “bill credits” that cover specific amounts of electricity produced by the array or specific portions of the array’s production.
- Bill credits are valued at a specific fixed price, in cents per kilowatt-hour that is lower than the utility’s standard offer; this decreases subscribers’ monthly electric bills.
- Subscribers can end the agreement before the 20 years with no penalty if: they move outside the utility service area and give 90 days’ notice; or they move to a location that does not have an individual meter and give 90 days’ notice; or they die; or the facility cannot operate as planned.
- Subscribers who break the agreement or terminate without one of these reasons may be required to pay an early termination fee that could equal 3 months’ bill credits.
Connecticut’s law and regulations include significant protections for consumers, which will be finalized before the program starts up in January 2020. A 14-page description of the protections developed for the pilot program is available here.
Solar panels take a lot of space—20×20 feet to power a typical Connecticut home, 3 to 5 acres for 100 homes or more. Poorly planned solar siting in recent years has resulted in unnecessary loss of farmland and forests and triggered understandable community opposition. There’s no need to use top-quality farmland or prime forests for solar.
Roofs. There are thousands of large roofs across the state suitable for shared solar arrays: big box stores, malls, warehouses, parking garages, carports, barns, industrial buildings, town offices, schools and houses of worship, to name a few. Experts say about HALF the electricity our state uses can be generated just from rooftop locations.
Land. Our state’s precious farming communities can benefit from carefully siting solar on less productive land, offsetting the high cost of running a farm in Connecticut and supporting weak spots in the grid. Solar arrays can allow for continued agricultural use such as grazing and pollination. Solar acreage can be returned to farmland more readily than other developments like housing, retail, or industrial uses.
Solar developers may already be looking at sites in your community, and they might not be the best sites in town. You know your community: look around, ask around, check your town’s Plan of Conservation and Development and other planning documents, and talk to town land use staff. Make a list of possible sites, both roofs and land.
Here are some statewide lists and maps that may be useful for identifying sites as well.
Landfills. Landfills are great locations for solar because they often are:
- near transmission lines
- close to population centers or industrial areas that use a lot of energy
- flat or slightly graded
- less expensive than other sites
For more detail, here is a detailed 2016 Environmental Protection Agency report on siting shared solar on landfills.
DEEP maintains a list of sites that towns have said they want to use for renewables. Here is a 2016 list: 17 town sites seeking renewable energy developers
There are hundreds of sites across the state that DEEP says are “contaminated or potentially contaminated” that may be suitable for shared solar projects. Follow this link and download the file that includes your town.
Weak spots in the grid
While there are great locations for large solar arrays everywhere in the state, some offer the added benefit of being located where the distribution system is particularly weak. Transmission and distribution costs have increased far more than the cost of actually generating power in the last two decades. Distributed generation like solar can support the grid and offset additional distribution costs that would otherwise be passed on to all customers.
Utilities track weak spots to plan capital improvements. Click on the maps to download full-size versions for your utility area. Solar can be particularly useful in areas that have problems with load growth or peak load (for example, the Woodmont substation in UI’s territory).
CONNECT WITH DEVELOPERS
A healthy solar industry has developed in Connecticut over the past decade of steady growth in residential and commercial solar. Of the approximately 90 installers (that focus on smaller rooftop solar systems), some are interested in larger shared solar projects. Many of the dozens of developers (that focus on larger commercial or municipal projects) are interested in shared solar as well. Entities that have a lot of experience in developing shared solar in other states (such as Clean Energy Collective and US Solar) or in financing shared solar systems are now bringing that expertise and funding to Connecticut.
Who should you approach first? If you have a relationship with an installer, personally or your town through a Solarize campaign or municipal installation, you could start by contacting them. Here are some additional suggestions for developers likely to be interested in shared solar.
Shared solar pilot
In 2015, rather than passing a shared solar law, legislators approved a small pilot program totaling 6 MW. After much delay, DEEP chose three projects in June 2017, totaling 5.22 MW. The three projects are currently under construction, for expected operation in 2019. They may be looking for subscribers, from anywhere in the state as long as they are in the same utility service area as the array. Here’s a summary of the three pilot projects.
|C-TEC and CEC||Capital for Change / MSL||USSolar|
|Utility service area||Eversource||Eversource||United Illuminating|
|Location||Bloomfield – vacant municipal property||Thompson – industrial site that housed a former mill||Shelton – former landfill|
|Size||1.62 MW||2 MW||1.6 MW|
|Subscribers||Up to 60% of the power can go to commercial/industrial customers; at least 20% of the residential portion must go to low-income residential customers|
|Price||Less than 17 cents/kwh|
CFE has assembled a list of developers that have expressed interest in doing shared solar. Some submitted proposals during the first round of the pilot in September 2016, or the second round in April 2017, while others indicated interest by attending DEEP meetings on shared solar or providing comments on DEEP program plans. We’ll update this list periodically; if you know of a developer who should be in the list and isn’t, let us know at email@example.com.
This section will be updated as we learn more about proposal formats and requirements after the DEEP and PURA proceedings conclude during 2019. In general, developers will take the lead in putting proposals together, with community input as needed or appropriate.
A note on how we define shared or community solar: There are two main kinds of shared solar in the U.S.: utility-sponsored, and community-sponsored. Connecticut is a “deregulated” state: we changed how our utilities are structured about 20 years ago. Now, utilities like Eversource and Avangrid/United Illuminating only distribute power; the actual power is generated by private producers selected through auctions held by the regional grid (ISO). Because Connecticut utilities don’t generate their own power, community-sponsored is right for our state.
Public Act 18-50 (shared solar is mostly in Section 7)
Community Solar Basics, six-page factsheet by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), 2017
Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers, IREC, 2016
Expanding Solar Access: Pathways for Multifamily Housing, IREC, 2018
Solar Market Pathways, a USDOE effort with Partners IREC, NREL, RAP Series of toolkits starting here:
Coalition for Community Solar Access – national shared solar coalition
Vote Solar – national advocacy group with a focus on shared solar
Northeast Energy News, free newsletter with focus on our region
Utility Dive, free newsletter; choose focus on Storage, Solar etc.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, US Dept of Energy – research and data on solar potential
Interstate Renewable Energy Council – data on state strategies and standards
Local Energy Rules, twice-monthly podcast, by the Institute of Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)
Community Power Map, data on renewables and green policies across the nation, by ILSR