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Delaware updates community solar rules to eliminate barriers

Written by: Leonard Parker | Solar News | 17th September

Today, Delaware passed community solar legislation that updates existing statute and will enable more residents and businesses to take advantage of renewable energy resources while generating income for participating landowners. The bill, sponsored and shepherded by state Sen. Stephanie Hansen and state Representative Bill Bush, passed both the House and Senate nearly unanimously and was signed into law by Gov. John Carney after a relatively short but thorough process.

The new law requires that each community solar project serves at least 15% low-income customers, who might otherwise face challenges accessing renewable energy.

“We built this policy not for low-income communities or environmental justice organizations, but with them,” said Dustyn Thompson, volunteer and community outreach coordinator for the Delaware Sierra Club, which worked with advocates to pass the legislation. “We did a really good job of making sure that people who are not typically heard were a part of the process.”

That process began in earnest over seven months ago, when Hansen, who recently retired from a 20-year career as an environmental lawyer and became chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, convened the first of several energy and climate forums in the state. By bringing together diverse voices, the coalition that formed was able to reach a consensus on an issue that has been contemplated for years but could never get over the finish line.

“To get something completed with such a diverse set of stakeholders is a testament to Senator Hansen’s ability to organize groups and drive consensus-driven outcomes,” said Salar Naini, executive VP of business development at Turning Point Energy, which helped push for community solar in Delaware. “Reaching consensus is hard.”

Seven months ago, that consensus was far from guaranteed.

“One of the comments we’d gotten was, ‘I don’t think we need to do community solar,’” said Hansen, who faced initial questioning from Delaware’s Caesar Rodney Institute, a conservative think tank. “I wanted to make sure that the person who raised this issue was part of my stakeholder group so that I could understand that point of view and, if possible, get them on board. I wanted to gather people from all the groups that have an interest in this issue to establish a common goal. You can’t just throw together legislation and hope it will pass.”

In the ensuing months, Hansen regularly gathered stakeholders including Sierra Club’s Thompson, Turning Point Energy’s Naini, and hundreds of others. Among the compromises they reached, the final legislation allows multiple ownership models, increases the potential size of community solar systems, eliminates setup requirements that could have created barriers to entry, and ensures the Delaware Department of Justice will work with the Public Service Commission to institute consumer protections.

“Every person who participated can say the bill represented all our collective views,” added Naini. “We may not agree with every single thing in there, but compromises were made by all parties to get to the eventual outcome.”

It will be a couple of years until consumers can subscribe to community solar projects. The protections written into the bill give the Public Service Commission and the Delaware DOJ until March 11 of next year to write all the rules and regulations, which will determine how quickly community solar projects can get into the ground. But even though it could be a couple of years before Delawareans start reaping the benefits of community solar, lawmakers and advocates remain impressed that the legislation came together as quickly as it did.

“This is an integral step toward realizing Delaware’s goal of 40% renewable energy by 2035,” said James Feinstein, Senior Policy Manager of Arcadia, the nation’s largest community solar subscriber manager. “What’s more, community solar is truly a people’s product that will deliver value to everyone in the state, not just landowners and direct program participants. We are thrilled to see this diverse set of stakeholders come together to achieve such a thoughtful, impactful bill,” he said.

News item from CCSA