November 27, 2023

Community Solar Is Growing Fast. So Are O&M Concerns.

Community solar is forecasted for exceptional growth the next five years. Wood Mackenzie forecasts at least 6 GW of community solar capacity to come online in existing markets between 2023 – 2027. That’s an annual average rate of 11%, largely driven by an improved policy environment and revived developer interest.”

Policy is definitely key. SEIA reports 41 states, plus D.C., have at least one community solar project online, but state policy is what sets the stage for community solar growth. Only 22 states, plus D.C., have policies that support community solar, but Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Washington have legislation pending. The emergence of new markets and expansion of current popular programs in New England and Minnesota is why the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) is still targeting 30 GW of community solar by 2030.

The combination of fresh community solar markets with incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have piqued developer interest. Community solar projects are well positioned for 10 percent tax credit adders tied to low-income communities and energy communities. The EPA’s $7 billion Solar for All funding opportunity is another potential boost.

Commercial solar developers and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) are also noticing the return on investment available for a 10 MW community solar project, or a multi-GW community solar portfolio. Plus, many community solar projects have that feel-good benefit of directly serving renewable energy and energy bill credits to local, lower-income homeowners.

Looming O&M Crisis?

An influx of developers in this burgeoning solar segment is exciting, but this is where mistakes in operation and maintenance (O&M) planning often happen.

“Developers want to move, and community solar deals are complex and competitive,” reminds Trish Graf, Vice President, Sales & Strategic Partnerships with Omnidian. “They have to secure the land lease. They have to secure financing. They need an outreach plan for subscribers. For those new in solar, the question of who takes care of the project long-term isn’t always top of mind until it is too late.”