Americans are rethinking the standard monopoly utility model in electricity markets across the country, opting more frequently into community solar programs. These programs allow customers to participate in generating solar power who may not want, or be able, to install solar panels on their homes or businesses. Instead, they can subscribe to purchase blocks of a shared “community” solar project saving 10-20 percent on their monthly bills while also fueling their local economy and working to positively impact the environment.
Common-sense economic benefits have conservatives across the country championing community solar. To date, 21 states have passed legislation encouraging development of these programs and continued efforts to expand consumer options are underway. The Community Solar Choice Act will soon be introduced in Congress giving states greater flexibility and choice to establish competitive community solar programs; and in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan conservative lawmakers have introduced bills that will remove the regulatory red tape in their states to authorize the development of small-scale community solar projects.
As prices for renewable energy have continued to fall over the last decade customers now realize they have greater power to seek change with more options available in the marketplace. Demand for these programs has grown exponentially from a single project in 2010 to over 1500 projects in 2020. This growth has allowed consumers and small businesses to harness the power of competition while gaining access to cleaner, more affordable energy.
Community solar programs have the added benefit of drawing private investment dollars to areas outside of the traditional utility model which means more jobs, economic development, and tax revenue for local communities. Farmers are an obvious beneficiary as they get paid to develop their least productive fields into small but robust renewable projects.
As costs continue to fall and communities begin pairing these projects with new storage technologies, the economic impacts and cost savings will only grow. In fact, studies have shown that optimizing the grid with local solar and storage projects benefit all ratepayers and can save Americans over $300 billion dollars by 2050.
While most states will not be able to completely open their electricity markets to full competition (nor should they), community solar programs introduce an element of competition and offer families the chance to choose how they power their lives and force utilities to be more responsive to market forces. We believe that passing community solar policy that removes red-tape, gets these projects off the ground, and leverages the power of competition is a win-win-win. Customers win by saving money on monthly bills, the economy wins by seeing increased local investment and jobs, and the environment wins by transitioning to cleaner energy resources.
Now is the time for conservatives in the Midwest and nationally to act by supporting community solar, a quintessentially conservative renewable energy policy if there ever was one.