As solar grows as a viable power source across the Commonwealth, many Pennsylvanians are being left in the dark due to various roadblocks to tapping in to the technology. Bills recently introduced in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate aim to expand opportunities for those interested in, yet unable to access, solar power through the legalization of community solar programs.
House Bill 1555 and Senate Bill 472 are two pieces of proposed legislation that, in tandem, aim to deregulate access to solar through community solar programs. Community solar is a newer concept designed to allow those unable to install their own home photovoltaic systems to tap in and benefit from other solar projects that are connected to the local electric distribution grid.
In a statement on community solar, state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, the prime sponsor of HB 1555, explained that “under current law, individuals who rent, have shaded roofs, live in multi-family buildings, or lack roof access, are unable to directly participate in Pennsylvania’s growing solar economy.” To fix this issue, Kaufer stated that the bill is a “simple fix,” as the bill “removes existing policy red tape to allow customers to participate in community solar, if they choose” at no cost to taxpayers.
Those with limited or no access to solar power could tap in to community projects, which are varied and diverse in nature, and receive credits on their utility bill for joining the program. The legislation would also open up access to those who seek to develop a community solar farm, including farmers.
Leslie Elder, the Mid-Atlantic director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, discussed the potential impacts for farmers to the House Consumer Affairs Committee, stating that “community solar presents an enormous opportunity for farms in Pennsylvania to obtain year-round and dependable income… by leasing a small portion of their land for community solar development.” Chad Forcey, executive director of Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum, noted that there is “upwards of $2 billion in new investment” that will break ground if/when the legislation is passed.
The red tape mentioned is existing state utility law that prohibits competition, thus outlawing any community solar program. If the legislation is approved, it will open the gates to community solar in Pennsylvania, which has great potential to change the energy landscape in the state.