Washington renewable energy advocates support community solar incentive bill


Washington Representatives Sharon Shewmake and Liz Berry introduced legislation that aims to amend the state’s existing Production Incentive Program for renewable energy projects and and establish a new Community Solar Expansion Program.

The legislation, House Bill 1814, plans to expand the opportunities for low-income residents to access renewable energy through an increased focus on installing community solar projects in the state.

From 2017 to 2018, Washington State ran a rooftop solar incentive program, through Washington State University’s (WSU) Energy Program, which provided $110 million to customers who completed residential and commercial solar energy installations. The program led to the installation of nearly 7,500 residential energy systems, 380 commercial energy systems, and more than 100 MW of solar capacity.

While HB 1814 would also be run by WSU’s Energy Program, the focus of the legislation is on community solar, rather than residential rooftop systems, as community solar is generally more accessible to low-income customers who live in multi-family housing or who rent their homes.

The state is also behind on its goal of installing 115 MW of solar under previously-passed legislation, and the hope is that the new incentive program will spur development to meet that goal.

While the legislation makes some tweaks to the application period for the Renewable Energy Production Incentive Program and the incentive rates for certified projects, the core of the legislation centers around establishing new community solar project eligibility requirements under the Community Solar Expansion Program. Projects must be on “preferred sites” to protect natural and working lands. A new public utility tax credit was created, an amount equaling the low-income community solar incentive payments paid by electric utilities under the program.

Within the context of the bill, “preferred sites” refers to rooftops, structures, existing impervious surfaces, landfills, brownfields, previously developed sites, irrigation canals and ponds, stormwater collection ponds, industrial areas, dual-use solar projects that ensure ongoing agricultural operations, and other sites that do not displace critical habitat or productive farmland.

If the legislation were to be passed, beginning July 1, 2022, and through June 30, 2033, owners/administrators of an eligible community solar project would be able to apply to the WSU Extension Energy Program for certification of eligibility to receive a one-time low-income community solar incentive payment from a participating electric utility on behalf of, and for the purpose of providing direct benefits to, the project’s subscribers.

The total incentive payments allowed for community solar projects would be capped at $20 million, of which at least $2 million would be set aside for innovative approaches by nonprofit organizations, and another $2 million to be used for tribal governments.

This proposal has garnered the support of renewable energy advocates across Washington, including the Washington Solar Energy Industry Association (WASEIA). In December, Washington Senator Jeff Wilson introduced his own incentive bill, which focuses on residential incentives, however representatives with WASEIA have confirmed with pv magazine that they and a broad coalition of energy leaders across the state support HB 1814.

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