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Community Solar

Understand Your Regulatory Context

Understanding your regulatory context is a critical first step. By taking the time to research the best option for your community you can optimize the process and avoid frustration.

Estimated Time to Complete

1 Week

Your local regulatory context will determine the ways in which your city can support a community solar project, so understanding your local regulations and utility programs is a critical initial step. Cities that are able to partner closely with their utility to design a new community solar program will typically have the most flexibility in determining what roles the city government can play. Cities served by municipal utilities and electric cooperatives are, in particular, in an ideal position to optimize community solar economics or promote racial and economic equity. Cities may, alternatively, be able to utilize programs that have been created in response to state community solar legislation or take advantage of programs independently offered by their utility. If none of the above apply to your city, you can still work to create opportunities by engaging your local utility or advocating for a new state-wide community solar legislation.

The following resources provide state-level information on community solar policies, which may help you clarify your local context.

Select the first option that applies to your city

If your city doesn’t currently have the means to participate directly in developing a community solar project, you still have the option of working with your utility or your state legislature to create new opportunities. In this situation, reviewing the “Project Manager” portions of this guidance will help you understand what actions a project manager would need to consider, which may help you advocate more effectively. In addition, you may wish to review the model program rules created by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and consider how to most effectively engage with your local utility. Contact the American Cities Climate Challenge team for more information on utility-engagement best practices.

Another option is to consider subscribing to a nearby community solar project for RECs only. In this model, a subscriber agrees to purchase the RECs (i.e., the green attributes of the energy), but not the energy, from a community solar project in a nearby utility service area. While this option will not change the mix of actual electricity delivered to your city’s distribution system, it can be preferable to buying RECs on the open market. Buying RECs from a nearby project will be more visible and may bring economic benefits to the local community. For more information, you can review the experience of Madison, Wisconsin, with subscribing to the RECs of a community solar project.

Based on your regulatory construct, you have an option to be a Subscriber, Host, Facilitator or Project Manager. Use the Next button to explore each of these roles and choose what is right for you.