Maryland passes community solar bill

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Within days of voting for a 3 GW energy storage target by 2033, a Maryland delegate announced the passing of legislation that would solidify a community solar framework.

Maryland State Delegate Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) announced the passage of HB 908, which, once signed into law by Governor Wes Moore, will provide community solar access across the mid-Atlantic state of 6.2 million residents.  SB 908, cross-filed with SB 613 from State Senator Benjamin Brooks (D-Baltimore County), will replace Maryland’s existing community solar pilot program with a permanent, less restrictive, and more equitable community solar program, according to a Coalition for Community Solar Access statement.

Once signed into law by Governor Moore, Maryland will become the 23rd U.S. state with a statewide community solar program offering subscription access to all residents. The law is expected to take effect on July 1, 2023.

“Since passing the pilot program’s enabling legislation in 2015, community solar in Maryland  has proven fruitful,” said  Clippinger. “By the time the program expires at the end of 2023, it will have brought enough solar capacity to support some 90,000 Maryland consumers. And with the passage of this legislation, we’re one step closer to achieving the state’s clean electricity goals in a way that ensures the financial and economic benefits of community solar reach the communities where they’ll matter most.”

HB 908 eliminates the pilot program’s arbitrary cap on community solar projects at 580 MW, and allows community projects to be a permanent distributed generation option for consumers, alongside net metering.

Community solar projects are small to mid-scale solar facilities typically sited on private land, commercial rooftops, landfills, industrial sites and other preferred areas in proximity to the utility customers they’re intended to serve. Currently about 75% of Maryland households lack the ability to deploy rooftop solar systems based on inadequate roofing or shade conditions, as well as rentals or condominiums prohibiting access to solar systems, said the Sierra Club.

“Community solar is an ideal tool for achieving clean energy and equity goals for the state, and this bill expands the program at a unique time where it can leverage the billions of dollars in funds recently made available by the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Senator Brooks. “Most importantly, the LMI subscriber and siting provisions of the bill strengthen the business case for targeting Maryland’s overburdened and underserved communities.”

Under Maryland’s legacy community solar pilot program, Marylanders are afforded the choice to enroll as “subscribers” to community solar projects, whereby they are credited savings on their utility bills that are based on their share of the revenue generated by the project’s energy sales.

HB 908 moves Maryland’s solar market away from limits associated with the types of projects that can be developed and instead incentivizes the development of projects on a greater variety of sites, including commercial and industrial  rooftops, brownfield sites, as well as using agrivoltaics on farmland.

Underlying all these projects is the Federal government’s goal, called the Justics40 initiative, to have at least 40% of community solar capacity dedicated to low-to-moderate income (LMI) customers. This will ensure that disadvantaged Marylanders have equitable access to utility bill savings at a time when electric prices are driving up household energy costs.

We know from the pilot program’s outcomes that small-scale, distributed solar can bring a wealth of local and state-wide economic, environmental, and public health benefits,” said Kristen Harbeson, political director at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.  “And we’re confident that with this legislation, Maryland will continue to build on its success and drive an accelerated transition toward a more equitable, resilient, and affordable clean energy future, and we applaud the General Assembly for its passage.”

Solar friendly laws

In February, Maryland legislators introduced a bill to boost residential solar adoption. Sponsored by Maryland Senator Brian J. Feldman and Delegate Lily Qi, Senate Bill 664 and House Bill 1239, would increase Maryland’s residential clean energy grant from $1,000 to $5,000 to boost adoption of rooftop solar and create local clean energy jobs.

This bill would fund rooftop solar grants through fees and penalties paid by companies that do not meet the state’s clean energy requirements, minimizing the cost to taxpayers and ensuring those fees are directed toward promoting renewable energy. It would also enhance clean energy incentives for low- and moderate-income residents, as well as those living in overburdened and underserved communities.

In June 2022, the state passed a pair of community solar bills. HB 1039 and HB 440 create tax incentives for the development of agrivoltaic community solar projects which serve low- and moderate-income customers on rooftops, brownfields, landfills, and clean fills. The bills provided a pilot framework for the state’s community solar market, with the current HB 908 replacing the former with a long-term framework.

For more on Maryland solar incentives read 50 states of solar incentives: Maryland.

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