Defining the Term "Community" in Community Solar Garden Program


Stoel Rives attorneys Andrew Moratzka and Sara Bergan authored an article for pv magazine titled “Care in the community.” The article discusses the adoption of community solar garden programs -  in light of a national initiative to increase solar access for all Americans announced by President Obama earlier this year - by a growing number of  states.

Moratzka and Bergan address a number of policy questions, including how to best define “community,” relating to the initiative, which has a goal of installing 300 MW of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing and scaling up solar and energy efficiency for low to moderate-income households.

The authors review the  Minnesota community solar program legislation that was enacted in 2013, after which the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (“MPUC”) approved a community solar garden program to be developed by Xcel Energy and then, fearing that the gardens had exceeded any notion of a “community” program, made retroactive changes to the requirements for the garden, including restricting to five how many 1 MW solar gardens can be located in close proximity to each other.

MPUC also imposed an undisclosed physical cap on the state-wide program, initially supposed to be uncapped in the aggregate, by limiting interconnections for co-located projects in order to use the existing grid without upgrades. The commission conceded that earlier decisions on co-locating solar gardens were meant to allow developers to “take advantage of economies of scale that would benefit developers, subscribers, and Xcel” but then limited those benefits.

The authors conclude by arguing that the definition of “community” as it relates to solar gardens should primarily be based on geographic considerations, driven by the common interest of those who live, work and play in a given location, not by an arbitrary size limitation applied to any geographic location. And artificial limits in the form of capacity caps limits a developer’s efficiencies and ability to finance a project at lower rates.

Read “Care in the community,” published in pv magazine, September  2015. (Subscription required.)

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