Two Midwest states look to expand community solar presence


Following the signing of Senate Bill 84 in New Mexico, two more states are considering legislation that would make them the 22nd and 23rd states, respectively, to recognize the benefits of and enable community solar.

The states in question are Michigan and Wisconsin, with Michigan’s community solar legislation being filed in late April and Wisconsin’s earlier this month. Both states have limited community solar programs, run by utilities or as a part of small pilots. But, until these filings, there was no law requiring utilities to provide the service, nor to cooperate with independent renewable energy developers.

Both states’ legislation would cap the size of community solar installations at 5 MW, while Michigan’s bill would require that every community solar installation has 60% of its capacity subscribed to by subscriptions of 40 kilowatts or less – essentially meaning homes and small commercial properties – with no single subscriber receiving more than 40% of a system’s overall capacity.

Neither bill has laid out concretely what price utilities would pay for the electricity generated by community solar projects, leaving that determination to each state’s regulators, with the understanding that the rate should spur future development into community solar. This aspect has seen resistance from opponents of the bills in each of the two states, with those parties arguing that such legislation would only benefit solar developers and shift costs to non-participating customers.

Both bills, however, have strong backing by their own regional renewable energy advocates. Michigan’s bill has the support of the Michigan Community Solar Alliance, a 14-member organization which includes the Michigan Municipal League, an organization which advocates on behalf of more than 520 municipalities across the state.

A release put out by the Michigan Community Solar Alliance also references a survey in which three out of four respondents, all Michigan citizens and ratepayers, expressed their support for the community solar legislation.

Wisconsin’s bill has the backing of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin.

Supporters of the bills in both states reference National Renewable Energy Laboratory data that shows that at least 49% of households and 48% of businesses across the country lack adequate solar rooftops, and that instituting community soar is the best way to provide access to these customers, as well as expanding energy equity, as many of the homes unsuitable for solar house low- and middle-income individuals and families.

Lastly, advocates in both states point the the positive effect that community solar has had on neighboring states, particularly Minnesota, where legislation requires Xcel Energy, the state’s largest investor-owned utility to purchase power from any project that meets basic requirements. This legislation has led to the creation of the most effective community solar program in the nation, with nearly 800 MW installed to date.

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