Community-solar industry shoots for 30GW by 2030

Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act and solar-power momentum in states, community-solar installations have potential to soar in the U.S., coalition says.

White farm building and solar panels in background with sunflowers in foreground.
The 1.2-megawatt community solar array at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, Colorado produces power for Boulder County subscribers. (Werner Slocum/NREL)
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On Wednesday, a national coalition of companies and nonprofit groups announced a big vision for community solar in the U.S.: 30 gigawatts by 2030. That’s nearly six times the 5.3 gigawatts installed now. 

The Coalition for Community Solar Access, which counts companies Arcadia and Con Edison and nonprofits Groundswell and Grid Alternatives among its members, made the announcement at the Community Solar Power Summit in San Diego. 

Community solar puts renewable power within reach of those who can’t install solar panels on their roofs. Users can instead subscribe to a part of an offsite array, and in return for the energy their portion of the array produces, earn credits that save them money on their electric bills. 

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Community solar offers an amazing opportunity to access clean energy and reduce the monthly energy burden of…American households today,” said Jeff Cramer, CEO of CCSA. Signing up for community solar is as easy as signing up for Netflix,” he told Canary Media. (Read our guide on community solar to learn more.)

Community solar can especially benefit low-income households, Cramer said. These families spend a high proportion of their paychecks on electric bills: on average, almost three times (8.6 percent) what other households spend (3 percent), according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Getting to the coalition’s vision of 30 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2030 — a number informed by a 2021 study on decarbonizing the grid — will require action sooner rather than later, Cramer said. Energy markets and energy policy work on a decades-long time scale.”

To achieve its goal, CCSA lays out a handful of directives for community-solar companies, nonprofits and supportive policymakers, including prioritizing low- and moderate-income customers, growing grassroots partnerships, partnering with utilities and state utility commissions, and getting 10 new states to adopt policy or legislation to make community solar possible.

As of now, 22 states plus Washington, D.C. have created community-solar markets. They’re not necessarily perfect; California passed a bill last year to create a new structure that could drive much faster expansion than its existing, floundering community-solar programs. 

Six more states will be considering community-solar legislation this year, according to the CCSA: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Community solar also stands to benefit from long-term incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, Cramer pointed out. The climate law provides investment and production tax credits, as well as a bonus tax credit for serving low- to moderate-income customers, through 2032 that apply to community-solar projects. Those tax credits also cover grid-interconnection costs, a significant part of overall community-solar costs that previously weren’t eligible, he said. 

The landmark climate bill also creates a $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a national green bank that could spur up to 10 times its seed funding in private-sector lending for projects including community solar. Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is required to start implementing the program within 180 days of the bill’s passage, Cramer anticipates that funding to start flowing within weeks.”

So is CCSA’s 30-gigawatt-by-2030 goal outlandish? Cramer doesn’t think it’s anything pie-in-the-sky.” In fact, it’s a floor, not a ceiling,” he said. The vision also lines up with the DOE’s own target of 20 gigawatts of community solar by 2025, which is expected to save subscribers $1 billion in energy costs. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and it certainly won’t be easy,” Cramer wrote in an announcement on the CCSA website. But if we’re successful, we will provide at least 10 million Americans with the ability to choose local, clean, reliable, and affordable renewable energy, empowering customers to lead the clean energy transition.”

Alison F. Takemura is staff writer at Canary Media.