Oregon PUC approves policy changes to Community Solar Program to spur enrollment

Published on September 27, 2021 by Chris Galford

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The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) last week made changes to its Community Solar Program, approving the release of 79 MW of capacity for Pacific Power and PGE and making moves aimed at increasing residential and low-income customer enrollments.

The Community Solar Program encompasses customers of PGE (Portland General Electric), Pacific Power and Idaho Power, offering options for those who lack access to other solar generation programs due to status as renters, having a shaded roof, high costs of solar installation and more. These customers can use the program to subscribe to a qualified solar project and receive credits on their electric utility bills for their portion of any energy generated.

When it launched last year, the program was intended to allot approximately 160 MW of capacity. Initially, half of PGE and Pacific Power’s portions of this were made available, or 46.57 MW and 32.30 MW, respectively. Now, the PUC has approved the release of the remainder for those two companies, citing the importance of getting access to solar for all Oregonians to both the PUC and the state legislature. As such, at least 50 percent of each project’s capacity must be subscribed by residential customers.

“The outcomes since the launch of this program have amplified the need to make policy changes to better achieve the Oregon Legislature’s intent and improve access to solar energy for residential and low-income Oregonians,” Megan Decker, PUC Chair, said.

Even as capacity was increased last week, the PUC also agreed to increase the discount for low income subscribers from 20 percent to 40 percent, while reducing the bill credit for non-residential customers to 90 percent of the retail rate. However, this came with a warning from Decker, who said that future expansion of the program would not be allowed until all existing capacity is subscribed, and due to concerns about program costs and outcomes.

Also among the changes last week were an annual 2 percent escalator added to the bill credit rate to support subscribing more residential customers and the retention of a 25 percent carve-out for community-based projects to encourage participation from smaller projects and those managed by local non-profits.