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Community Solar: Best Practices for Utilities in the South

As solar energy continues to become more affordable, many families are expressing interest in this local, clean power source, but are unable to install a solar system at their homes for various reasons. In fact, due to structural constraints, shading from trees, and other issues, about 75% of residential rooftop area in America is not suitable for hosting a solar system. This prevents a large segment of the population from taking advantage of solar energy. The solution to this problem is Community Solar. Community Solar (aka Shared Solar) takes place through the development of solar energy projects that provide power to multiple community members. Community Solar systems are typically sited close to the community they will serve. These programs leverage economies of scale to reduce the price of solar for individual customers. This model allows Southerners to access the benefits of solar energy even if they would be unable to install solar panels on their own homes or businesses. Community Solar can be utility-sponsored (either a utility developing its own program or working with a solar company to offer a program), or it can be third party-sponsored in states that allow for competition. By offering well-designed Community Solar projects, utilities can give their customers meaningful access to affordable, local solar power and tangible control of their energy choices. By providing families more options to lower their energy costs and take advantage of the South’s vast solar resource, Community Solar can create healthier, cleaner, and stronger communities across the region. Community Solar programs also provide benefits for utilities by increasing customer satisfaction, bolstering clean energy investment, and contributing to local economic development. Utilities can take advantage of economies of scale by choosing the optimal system size and number of participants. They can also decide which location will offer the most value to the grid. Community Solar can be a win-win by providing tangible benefits to participating customers, strengthening local communities, and delivering valuable clean energy to the grid. We encourage utilities to adopt the following best practices when developing Community Solar programs to ensure that all customers receive meaningful access to solar power through this innovative program.