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DOE presses for rapid community solar energy access

Feb. 1, 2022
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has announced several new initiatives and says it is growing support to rapidly increase community solar deployment for consumers and businesses.

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has announced several new initiatives and says it is growing support to rapidly increase community solar energy deployment. At the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) Annual Summit on Jan. 25, the DOE announced several new initiatives to unlock barriers to the deployment of community solar technology for renewable energy. Together, the agency said the new initiatives will help achieve the NCSP’s target to enable community solar access to power the equivalent of 5 million households and create $1 billion in energy bill savings by 2025.

Jeff Cramer, President and CEO of Coalition for Community Solar Access, observed, “Today, over 80 community solar providers from across the country announced a commitment to build more than 20 gigawatts of community solar by 2025. The industry is ready to help DOE meet its ambitious community solar goals. With the combination of DOE's NCSP initiatives and the adoption of other critical actions by state and federal policymakers, industry can meet this goal and satisfy pent up demand, save American consumers and businesses money, create local jobs, enhance grid resilience and protect the environment and community health.” 

Over 500 supporters attended the January summit to discuss NCSP’s “Pathway to Success,” a plan to address persistent barriers to equitable access. According to DOE, the plan has five focus areas:

  • Developing community solar ‘knowledge and know-how'.
  • Expanding state-level programs.
  • Improving access to financing.
  • Reducing customer acquisition barriers.
  • Broadening awareness of the benefits of community solar programs.

Per a press statement, new initiatives supporting this pathway model include:

  • A new States Collaborative, engaging nearly half states and the District of Columbia, which will support expansion and development of new community solar programs at the state level. This Collaborative will be made up of state energy officials and program administrators and by providing best practices, technical assistance, and opportunities for direct peer-to-peer learning.
  • The Credit Ready Solar Initiative, announced today, which will help community solar developers better access project financing. This initiative will bring together lenders, philanthropic institutions, and community solar developers—especially those that are community-based or serve low- to moderate-income households—to create standard processes and a marketplace for deploying project capital.
  • A $2 million NCSP Technical Assistance program, which is offered on a rolling basis at no cost to NCSP partners and provides personalized support to help them accelerate implementation, improve the performance of their program or project, and build capacity for future community solar development.
  • Community solar projects enabling multiple customers to benefit from the revenue produced by a solar array, which can be powerful tool for bringing affordable solar energy to more Americans. NCSP, a coalition of over 800 stakeholders, works to expand access to community solar to every American household with a focus on reducing the energy burden in underserved communities.

Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, noted, “In achieving the administration’s goals, all communities deserve to benefit from the clean energy transition. Community solar is an essential element of expanding affordable solar energy access by allowing everyone to share in the benefits of clean energy regardless of whether their homes can support rooftop solar panels.”

Feds, states strive for community solar expansion

The DOE's statement observed that while 22 states and Washington, D.C. have state policies that support community solar deployment, nearly three-quarters of the market is concentrated in just four states: Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York.

During the January summit, Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor, White House Climate Policy Office moderated a discussion with Governor Jay Inslee from Washington, and Governor JB Pritzker from Illinois, who highlighted state-level support for community solar expansion.

“Community solar is a critical way to increase access to clean energy technologies,” said Governor Inslee. “We want solar to be affordable for every homeowner. We can’t treat community solar projects as one-off, feel-good projects if we want an equitable clean energy economy. We need to integrate it into our state energy strategies and our budgets. That’s why I’ve made the state Clean Energy Fund a sustainable source of recurring funding. These funds also help stakeholders come together to identify more ways to improve consumer access to clean energy.”

“Illinois is leading the way as we transition to clean energy, and the NCSP program is an essential effort in dismantling barriers to solar power in underserved communities,” said Governor Pritzker. “Not only will this be good for our planet, but the new goal of reaching 5 million households by 2025 will also mean $1 billion in energy savings for consumers. I’m proud to be part of such a forward-thinking and vital effort.”

“NCSP’s work will help us get closer to our shared goals for solar,” concluded Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor, White House Climate Policy Office. “The White House, States, DOE, industry, community organizations, and more are working to deliver lower energy bills for families, create good-paying jobs, and tackle climate change.”

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