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Shared Clean Energy Program Advances in Connecticut Legislature

Connecticut could become the 11th state to pass shared renewables policy, the new approach to renewable energy that gives renters and others a way to go solar for the first time.

A Shared Clean Energy pilot program is now included in the state’s renewable energy bill SB 353, which passed the Joint Committee on Energy and Technology last week. A coalition of local and national renewable energy advocates have come together to support the bill’s progress and urge lawmakers to expand the small pilot program to give more Connecticut energy consumers a way to participate in and benefit from the state’s growing solar economy.

“Clean energy is a bright spot of growth in Connecticut’s economy, yet a majority of our residents simply cannot participate because their rooftops are not suitable for solar panels. By simply enabling more of Connecticut to invest in and receive the bill saving benefits of local renewable energy systems, the state can unleash tremendous economic activity without any new state subsidies,” said Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), Senate Chair of the Energy and Technology Committee. 

Despite record solar growth, a majority of Connecticut energy consumers — including renters, condo-owners, and homeowners with shaded roofs — are unable to invest in their own rooftop solar energy systems. Shared clean energy programs overcome that barrier to solar adoption.  The concept was originally introduced in the Connecticut legislature this year as House Bill 5412, but was then merged into a broader clean energy bill, Senate Bill 353, which also calls for the state’s utilities to expand their offerings of long-term contracts for larger scale renewable energy facilities.

SB 353 currently calls for a limited shared clean energy pilot program that would allow consumers in two communities to subscribe to local, off-site renewable energy projects and receive a utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. But advocates are confident that legislative leaders will expand the Connecticut program beyond a two-project pilot before final passage in this legislative session. 

“Every poll in America shows home and business owners want greater access to solar power.  We’re going to argue on behalf of electric ratepayers who have paid the clean energy surcharge on their electric bill for 10 years now and shouldn’t have to wait until 2018 to be given the chance to own a solar system,” said Michael Trahan, executive director of Solar Connecticut, the state’s solar business industry group.”

Tree shading in particular seems to be a challenge for solar in Connecticut.  The state’s “Solarize CT” program, which facilitates bulk purchasing of solar systems for individual residences, has hosted workshops for thousands of Connecticut customers interested in going solar.  Yet workshop organizers say the majority of those who attend end up learning their property is not suitable, mostly due to tree shading.  A local solar installation company estimated that 90 percent of the customers they encounter have tree issues. No one wants to set up a tree versus solar trade-off, so shared clean energy presents a welcome win-win.  Customers can keep their trees and still go solar.

"Connecticut residents are ready for a shared clean energy law. Solar is now a popular emissions-free source of energy but most residents can’t take part in our solar programs through no fault of their own. Residents who can't put panels on their own house should be allowed to own part of a system built on a brownfield or vacant lot. We need to strengthen SB 353 beyond a small pilot program and open up the opportunity for everyone to be part of a clean energy future," added Roger Smith, co-director of Clean Water Action.

If passed, an expanded Shared Clean Energy program would build on Connecticut’s proven solar energy success. Connecticut currently has 74 megawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power 9,700 homes according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).  The state’s growing solar energy sector currently employs 1,100 according to The Solar Foundation’s National Job Census. 

Lead image: Connecticut sign via Shutterstock

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