The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved policy changes to the Community Solar Program intended to increase residential and low-income customer enrollments in the program.
The Community Solar Program provides customers of Portland General Electric (PGE), Pacific Power, and Idaho Power the ability to subscribe to a qualified solar project of their choice and receive a credit on electric utility bills for their portion of the energy generated. It is designed for those customers who lack access to other solar generation programs due to renting in place of owning property, having a shaded roof, being unable to afford the upfront cost of installing a solar energy system, among others.
“The outcomes since the launch of this program have amplified the need to make policy changes to better achieve the Oregon Legislature’s intent and improve access to solar energy for residential and low-income Oregonians,” said Megan Decker, PUC Chair.
In 2020, the Community Solar Program launched with half of PGE and Pacific Power’s allotment of the program’s intended 160 MW of capacity being made available (46.57 and 32.30 MW respectively), along with all of the capacity allotted to Idaho Power (3.28 MW).
In a public meeting this week, the PUC approved the release of the remaining 79 MW of capacity for Pacific Power and PGE. To increase the participation of residential customers, the PUC approved the requirement that 50 percent of each project’s capacity be subscribed by residential customers. The PUC also increased the discount for low income subscribers from 20 percent to 40 percent.
“The PUC’s staff worked hard with program partners and the community to find a way to make this program a more viable option for low-income residents,” added Decker. “We approved their recommendation because supporting access to solar for all Oregonians is an important outcome sought by the Oregon legislature.”
Other policy changes approved by the PUC include:
- Reducing the bill credit for participating non-residential customers to 90 percent of the customer’s retail rate to minimize the cost impact to ratepayers.
- Adding an annual 2 percent escalator on the bill credit rate to support subscribing more residential customers and to reflect expectations that retail electricity rates will increase over time.
- Retaining the 25 percent carve-out for community-based projects, to ensure that smaller, more innovative projects and projects managed by local non-profit organizations have an opportunity to participate.
In approving the program changes, the Commissioners also expressed concerns about the program costs and outcomes. “While we agreed to allow the adjusted program to move forward in order to capture more residential customers, including low-income customers, we will not further expand the program until all existing capacity is subscribed, including capacity reserved for small, community-based programs. The legislative goals of the program are challenging to balance with its current design, which may need to change significantly before it could be expanded further,” Decker concluded.
In 2016, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1547, which directed the PUC to establish a Community Solar Program for Oregon customers of Idaho Power, Pacific Power, and PGE. The PUC administers the program in partnership with Energy Solutions, Energy Trust of Oregon, and Community Energy Project.