Community solar may soon be legal in Pennsylvania as members of both parties have made moves to reintroduce the idea to the state legislature.
There has been much debate surrounding the concept of community solar programs. Pennsylvania currently allows for the private ownership of solar panels. The energy generated can either be used by the owner or sold back to the grid in a process called net metering, but cannot be shared or otherwise distributed to consumers. This differs from utility-level solar power, where individuals only purchase solar generated electricity from their utility company, but have no ownership of the solar panels or other generation equipment.
Community solar programs are unique, as they allow for individuals, organizations, businesses, or any other entity to purchase solar energy from a local or regional solar energy system that they do not directly own. That is, an individual who lives near a community solar project can buy or lease a portion of the electrical output of the community solar array, the excess of which is sold back to the grid. Those participating in a community solar program are also able to receive other benefits and incentives related to solar energy production, such as credits on their utility-level energy bill, just for being a part of the program.
In January, Republican Pennsylvania state Sen. Rosemary Brown published a memorandum indicating her plans to introduce legislation to allow community solar programs in the state. In her memo, Senator Brown states that now is the time to legalize community solar, arguing that the benefits of doing so would be widespread, and ultimately provide citizens and businesses an additional choice in meeting their own energy needs.
Now, a bill has also been proposed in the state House of Representatives which would legalize community solar. According to its text, HB 330 will “provid[e] for [a] local solar program, for renewable energy credits and for powers and duties of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission”. The bill was introduced in March, and was sponsored by eight bipartisan members of the state house.
While there is bipartisan support, opponents of community solar programs argue that they create a new series of problems. The common arguments against community solar are that they exacerbate inequities among citizens, are too complex, and could destabilize our existing electrical grid structure.
There are currently 39 states, and Washington, D.C., with community solar programs; five of which are connected to the PJM Interconnection, the grid system serving Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and 12 other states in the region.
Whether the legislation will make it to a vote remains to be seen. Similar legislation was introduced in the last legislative session and did not make it out of committee.