Utility Dive: “Utilities must come clean about the full value of community solar”

An array of solar panels in a grassy field meant to symbolize how independent community solar can help Indiana move toward a healthier, cleaner future

Independent community solar policy that creates competitive and transparent markets for development often draws pushback from monopoly-owned utilities.

Jeff Cramer, CEO of Coalition for Community Solar Access, and John Farrell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, recently wrote an incredible opinion piece for Utility Dive making it clear why utilities are in opposition—and why they often misrepresent the truth.

It’s really rather simple: utilities often oppose customer-driven, third-party owned energy projects like community solar because they threaten to supplant utility investments and shareholder profits. They use “cost-shift” — the idea that when one ratepayer benefits, the others bear the cost — as their bogeyman. And because utility ratemaking happens in a black box, it’s hard for legislators to argue against it.

Community solar provides every household and business the opportunity to subscribe to solar energy without needing to install a system on site. The projects are typically 5 MW and below, serving up to 1,000 households, and a great way to bring bill savings to those who historically haven’t had access to clean energy. Leveraging millions in capital from individuals, businesses and entrepreneurs, community solar means accelerating an all-of-the-above approach to clean energy deployment.

But if we’re going to harness the benefits of community solar, we need the utilities to stop spreading misinformation about costs and come clean about the value these projects bring to the grid.

The truth is that research and numerous cost-benefit analyses show that investing in smaller projects built on the distribution network — like community and rooftop solar — bring unique benefits to all ratepayers on the grid. And when those benefits are properly accounted for, the costs for electric customers are virtually identical to utility-scale projects.

Utility Dive, March 2024

The question facing Hoosiers: Do we want a future defined by innovation, customer choice and healthier energy sources? Or will we cling to outdated monopolies that stifle progress and keep us in the dark ages of electricity?

We are at a crossroads when it comes to how we power our lives and homes, and community solar presents a massive opportunity.

Imagine a grid that’s smarter, cleaner, and puts more control in our hands. We can break free from the monopolies and build a system that lowers our bills, creates healthy competition and drives cutting-edge solutions that leave fossil fuels behind.

The power to shift our outdated grid could be in our hands, but only if we break through the misleading utility rhetoric and show how community solar can work for all Hoosiers.