Why does state resist shared solar projects?
Published 3:58 pm, Wednesday, May 13, 2015
You'd like to go green -- put solar panels on your roof, generate some alternative-source of electricity and cut what you pay for electricity.
Only the beloved big oak tree in your neighbor's front yard throws off so much shade, you're never on the sunny side of the street.
No way, solar array.
But what if there were a flat-topped building, or an unused piece of land in your neighborhood with great southern exposures? Couldn't you build a larger array there and share the power it generated among two, or three or 10 families?
If you live in Connecticut, the answer is no. The state does not allow shared solar power installations, largely because the state's two big utilities don't want that to happen.
"They want to maintain their own subsidized monopoly,'' said energy consultant Joel Gordes, who is an outspoken advocate of decentralizing the state's power grid.
And in the Land of Steady Habits and two big utilities, it's unclear if any meaningful change will come soon.
In 2014, a coalition of environmentalists, consumer advocates and solar industry leaders failed to get the state General Assembly to move on allowing shared solar in the state.
This year, the legislature is considering a crust-of-bread bill, allowing two shared solar pilot projects over the next three years.
The coalition's hope is they, and the public, can persuade the General Assembly to at least expand that scanty number of pilot programs.
Shannon Smyth, staff attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said the best solution would simply be to open the market up and let people build shared solar projects wherever it's feasible.
"That would be the ideal,'' Smyth said.
Shared solar would seem to make sense in the state. In part, that's because about 75 percent of the places to live in the state aren't a good fit for a solar panel installation.
They're physically ill-suited, or there's too much shade. Maybe the people living in the house are renters. A fair portion of the state's housing stock is condominiums and apartments.
"Whatever the reason," Phelps said.
Shared solar projects help people bypass those problems. If there's one good site for a larger array -- an empty lot amid apartments, for example -- many people could share the electricity that one installation could generate.
Gordes said larger arrays are more cost-effective because of economies of scale.
The more solar power, the less need for energy made by burning fossil fuels.
"Obviously, it's good for the environment," Smyth said.
It would also make the state less reliant on a few big power plants to provide all the power to utility customers.
"It would make the grid in the state more secure and more resilient,'' Gordes said.
Nor is this a never-before-proposed idea.
Many states, including New York and Massachusetts, allow shared solar projects. For example, Gordes said, Massachusetts is using shared solar projects in public housing complexes to lower utility costs to the projects' tenants.
"Massachusetts is going like gangbusters on this," Phelps said.
Smyth also said the state's refusal to allow shared solar projects is forcing the solar industry to look elsewhere when it comes to investing in new facilities.
"If the state only allows two pilot programs, that's not a lot of incentive to invest," she said.
Which, Phelps of Environment Connecticut said, raises this essential question: If you've got a new way of delivering clean, less-expensive energy to people, in ways that will add new sources of power to the state's grid and thus make that system more secure, why the resistance?
"Why can't we do this here?" he said.
Contact Robert Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.