Entire neighborhoods — even families without solar panels — could enjoy the financial benefits of renewable energy under Illinois’ first community solar plan proposed by the Citizens Utility Board and Environmental Defense Fund.
“Renewable energy is not an exclusive club — everyone should be able to enjoy its benefits,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “Our community solar proposal, in effect, is renewable energy for the masses, and that’s vital to making our electric bills lower and our power grid more stable.”
Currently, Illinois homeowners with rooftop solar panels can receive compensation credits on their electric bills by sending excess renewable energy back to the power grid — a benefit called “net metering.” However, only about 300 northern Illinois customers participate because many people, particularly renters, lack the funding and space to install rooftop solar, according to the proposal CUB and EDF jointly filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Community solar helps overcome those barriers by allowing homes to share in the compensation credits generated by solar energy installations in their neighborhood.
“Community solar presents an unparalleled opportunity to boost Illinois’ efforts to create a cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable energy system,” said Dick Munson, EDF director, Midwest Clean Energy. “Community solar is, literally, power to the people. Now, Illinoisans — regardless of housing type, location, or income level — have more clean energy choices and the potential to lower their electricity bills.”
Not only does such a program have a direct benefit on participants’ electric bills, but it also has the potential to lower market prices for all residents, alleviate stress on the power grid, and lessen the need for polluting power plants. Community solar would be particularly effective in reducing energy demand during peak times — when prices skyrocket and power plants produce the most pollution.
CUB and EDF are proposing a three-year pilot program for ComEd customers. Here’s how it would work: A “host customer” — a home, business, school, for example — would recruit neighbors to invest money in a solar energy project of up to 2,000 kilowatts. The neighbors who invest would then share in electric bill credits generated by that project, based on the level of their financial contribution. EDF and CUB hope the pilot project could be available to ComEd customers by 2016, and expanded to all ComEd and Ameren consumers by 2020.
Over the last year, CUB, the state’s top utility watchdog, and the Environmental Defense Fund, an international environmental organization, have pushed for new programs to help make Illinois a national leader in building a smarter power grid. Capitalizing on the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act, passed in 2011 by the Illinois General Assembly, EDF and CUB are working with state regulators and the utilities to gain greater control over peak energy load, increase electric grid resiliency, and achieve cost savings from energy efficiency. If done right, these improvements could make the power grid more stable and help Illinoisans save money through efficiency, energy-management tools, and other cost-saving programs.
For more information, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline at (800) 669-5556 or visit CUB’s website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.