What Is Community Solar?
Community solar facilities are owned by the individuals and communities they serve. These facilities come in many forms, ranging from rooftop solar panels owned by an individual homeowner or small business to large solar installations owned by a solar co-operative.
Solar facilities like these benefit our communities. They keep profits in our local economies. They put us in control of our own energy supplies, not big corporations. Community solar facilities also create jobs. According to this recent National Observer report, investing in solar could create over 70,000 jobs in Alberta.
But community solar doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when people work with government and business to put the right policies in place, policies that make solar power attractive and affordable for individuals, small businesses, farmers, First Nations, Métis settlements, and solar co-operatives.
These policies are well known. They’ve been used successfully in jurisdictions all over the world. Take Germany, for example.
Germany passed laws promoting many forms of renewable energy in the first decade of this century. The result was a wide-ranging Energiewende, or energy transformation, that encouraged the installation of thousands of small solar facilities owned by individuals and communities. These policies have been hugely successful, even though Germany receives much less sunlight than Alberta.
These are the kinds of policies we want for Alberta. They fall into three categories — grid and market access, capacity and start-up support and project financing and economics.
Grid and Market Access
Alberta Micro-Generation Regulation
We want the government to modify the Alberta Micro-Generation Regulation to remove the size limitation on individual (non-utility) solar facilities. The current regulation limits non-utility systems to 1 MW. We support the Canadian Solar Industry Association’s recommendation that there be no size limitation, provided a project can be safely connected to the grid.
We want the government to prioritize community-owned and shared ownership models for solar facilities. Renters, low- to moderate-income households, and owners of shaded or heritage-listed buildings cannot install solar systems and benefit from the clean energy transition. We believe the government should prioritize community-owned and shared ownership models that would provide access to individuals who cannot install their own solar systems.
Virtual Net Metering
We want the government to introduce virtual net metering (VNM) so that renewable energy facilities can credit individual tenants or common utility accounts with a share of the energy produced by that facility.
For example, VNM would allow a condominium board to credit individual owners’ bills with a share of the energy produced by a system on the condo roof. It would allow community residents who cannot install their own solar systems to share the savings from an offsite solar farm or garden located near their community, such as the one in Nelson, B.C. It would allow a social housing development to install a solar system on its roof and credit individual tenants with a share of the savings. VNM also allows residential and small commercial solar systems to export their surplus electricity to the grid.
Capacity and Start-up Support
Streamlined Permitting Processes
Permitting procedures for solar systems are inconsistent. In some Alberta counties and municipalities, high permitting fees can add significant costs to an installation.
We support a system like the one in use in Germany, which offers simple and free permitting for solar energy systems. This system makes solar installations simpler, quicker and less expensive.
Better Access to Market and Regulatory Information
We want the government to improve access to market and regulatory information, which currently limits the growth of private and community solar facilities.
The measures required are simple and low cost. The Alberta government can build capacity in this sector by offering information and services, such as online tools, guidebooks, workshops, and hotlines.
Project Financing and Economics
We want the government to lower barriers to small-scale and community-scale financing. Effective policy measures include community investment funds (CIFs) like those used in Nova Scotia and state-insured loans.
Investment Incentives and Tax Relief for Non-profits and Co-operatives
A variety of measures currently prevent non-profit organizations and co-operatives from accessing investment incentives and tax relief measures available to private owners and businesses. We want the Alberta government to lower these barriers by enacting the appropriate legal structures.
We want the government to help municipalities modify their Charter status so these municipalities can offer property-assessed clean energy (PACE) to homeowners. PACE lets cities offer solar installations or home energy retrofits to homeowners without upfront costs.. Homeowners repay the costs of these upgrades through charges added to their property tax bills.
We want the government to encourage the growth of solar energy by offering a well-designed feed-in tariff (FIT).
FITs encourage the growth of renewable energy by providing long-term contracts and guaranteed grid access to renewable producers. FITs are tied to the cost of generation for the selected power source, and they are often designed to decrease over time, encouraging efficiency and innovation.
Community Investment Incentives for Large-Scale Solar Facilities
We also support policies that create incentives for communities to invest in large-scale solar facilities. We want the Alberta government to prioritize and incentivize projects that are fully or partially owned by communities, co-operatives, municipalities, farmer associations, First Nations or Métis communities.
There are many ways to accomplish this goal. One example is a policy that would require renewable energy projects to reserve a portion for investment by a community or First Nation partner. Another example is a “standing offer program,” which would make it easier for large commercial and community solar facilities to receive long-term power purchase agreements for all the electricity they generate.