Maryland could be taking a big step towards joining the leading solar states in allowing community solar or solar garden projects. The General Assembly passed a bill that instructs the Public Service Commission (PSC) to create a pilot program and set the rules for it by early next year. Once in place, companies will be able to build large solar arrays that can produce power sold to consumers who are not directly connected to the array. The bill still has to be signed by the Governor, but with widespread bi-partisan support, that should not be a problem.
There are many variants to community solar, but in essence it is the only way for the vast majority of the public to gain access to the benefits of solar power. It works like this – a company builds a large solar array and then sells the power that array produces to many different customers (commercial and residential). The power from the array flows into the grid, but the customer gets credit for his/her portion by the process of virtual net metering. Virtual net metering is a process whereby the utility virtually spins a customer’s meter backwards to give credit for energy produced off sight. For example, if my home uses 1,000 kWh of electricity in a month, but I’m buying 700 kWh a month from a community solar project down the road, my meter would get virtually spun backwards and I would only be shown to be using 300 kWh in that month. Because the solar power I’m buying will be cheaper, I’ll be saving money while helping promote clean energy.
Community solar opens the door to solar for the 80% of the market that can’t currently get solar. This would be renters, small businesses that lease their spaces, and homes with shading or poor roofs. It’s an exciting time for Maryland, but the deal is not done. Solar advocates have to participate in the PSC process to ensure that the regulations for the pilot program are fair and enhance rather than preclude solar development.