Missouri municipal utility to launch 20-year community solar program

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The state of Missouri’s legislation did not yet act on a proposed community solar legislation, SB 824, during its 2022 legislative session. The proposal would set up a state-recognized and utility-supported community solar program allowing for widespread subscription to shared local solar projects by residents and small businesses.

Now Columbia, one of the state’s more progressive cities, has seen its utility formulate its own community solar framework ahead of the state’s next legislative session.

Municipal utility Columbia Water & Light (CW&L), which provides water and electric services to the city of Columbia’s near 129,000 residents, this week filed a new report that serves as framework to provide accessibility to locally-developed community solar.

The initial framework calls for CW&L to distribute solar energy using a net billing system from its first two projects in the municipality, Truman and Bernadette Fields, whose combined 1 MW of clean energy capacity from 10 MW of total capacity projects is divided into 1.5 kW blocks for residential customers.

The local program is providing 100 blocks representing about 15% of the city’s initial community solar platform to low-income eligible customers as well, according to the utility’s report. Further details of CW&L’s platform include:

  • Community solar is available to residential customers across the central Missouri city and will be prioritized to owner-occupied and rental properties. Former SolarOne customers receive first priority.
  • Customers can sign up for one (1) block of solar.
  • Program is designed base on current electric rates with an assumed annual increase of 1% factored in to the program.
  • Participation in the program begins January 1, 2024; LMI customer participation will begin over the Spring of 2024.
  • CW&L’s community solar program is designed to run through December 2044, with customers automatically renewing annual agreements.

Customers will be charged $25 in monthly fees to receive locally generated solar, which includes a fixed $14.23 solar subscription fee and a $10.77 utility operations fee, which may be adjusted over time at a variable rate. An additional one-time fee of $27 is required for application to the residential program.

Eligible low-income residents will not be required to pay the application fee, and will be charged a reduced fixed monthly solar subscription fee of $12.69 and $10.77 utility operations fee.

The Missouri municipal utility’s program estimates a standard $0.63 per month cost for a standard customers. The utility estimates low-income customer benefits of $27 in savings over the first seven months of participation, providing $0.91 in monthly electric bill savings in the first year of the program.

In 2022, the Columbia revised a 2004 ordinance, making a net zero pledge to become 100% renewable powered by December 2030. As of December 2022, CW&L purchased or generated 18.2% of its total electricity from renewable energy resources, of which wind (12.9%), landfill gas to energy (2.9%) and solar (2.3%) represented its renewable portfolio.

Statewide ambitions

Penned by Senator Bill White (R-Joplin), Missouri’s prior community solar legislation, SB 824, proposes the state would implement a community solar pilot program which run for a three-year phase, from 2023 through 2025. The legislation calls for electric utilities to honor the pilot program until the total solar demand from community program subscribers equals 2% of the electric utility’s sales for the previous year.

CW&L joins the state’s largest utility provider Ameren in providing shared access solar. To date, Ameren has offered local participation in a Lambert, Mo. 900 kW solar project and a 5.7 MW project in Montgomery County.

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