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Solar energy and community net metering

The City of Portland has a long-standing commitment to support the development of a market for solar energy. Despite many gains, solar energy remains out of reach for many Portland residents, including renters, lower-income individuals and people who live in neighborhoods with more shade than sun.

The 2009 City of Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan (CAP) calls for ten percent of the energy used in Multnomah County to be produced from on-site renewable sources by 2030. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) established a solar energy program in 2006 and, along with key partners, has helped increase the installed solar capacity in Portland since that time.

However, seventy-five percent of residential consumers in the U.S.aren’t able to install solar on their own rooftops because they rent, have too much shade, can’t afford it or have the wrong rooftop orientation. In recent years, community-shared solar has emerged as an innovative strategy to expand the use of renewable energy to underserved populations. Community solar is a model in which residents can invest in solar electric installations that are located elsewhere, such as a school or community center rooftop, providing a pathway to community ownership of clean power production.

The City of Portland attempted a community-shared solar pilot in 2012 which faced many constraints as part of the existing net-metering laws and available market incentives (i.e., Oregon Volumetric Incentive Rate, Federal Investment Tax Credit). Therefore, the pilot did not ultimately result in solar installations, though a number of valuable lessons were learned.

One of the key findings from the City’s pilot was that community net-metering, instead of standard net-metering, would offer a pragmatic solution to the current legislative and regulatory obstacles to implementing community-shared solar projects.

 

What is the difference between net metering and community net metering?

Net-metering laws establish how utilities must treat the power produced by a grid-connected solar electric (photovoltaic or PV) system. Under typical net-metering agreements, consumers receive a credit from the utility for the power generated by their solar electric system, valued at the same retail rate that they pay for the power consumed from the grid.

Community net-metering is an expansion of net-metering policy which allows consumers to receive the same benefits enabled by direct ownership of solar electric and standard net-metering, but from a larger, community-scaled solar electric system.

The City of Portland is working with other parties to develop legislative solutions that enable equitable, lower-cost access to solar energy for many more Oregonians than are served by the current net-metering law.