The Washington D.C. council voted unanimously on Tuesday to bring virtual net-metering to the city. The Community Renewables Energy Act is part of a growing wave of community solar legislation in multiple states, which seeks to allow people who might not be able to benefit from solar individually to do so on a community basis.
Virtual net-metering is one of several options market innovators have developed for overcoming the financial and regulatory hurdles that prevent many people from enjoying the benefits of renewable power. Traditional net-metering allows anyone who has solar arrays on their home, for example, to sell or credit that electricity back to the grid. That offsets what they pay for the rest of their electricity, and reduces their monthly utility bill. Virtual net-metering expands that concept by allowing individuals to buy a portion of a larger solar or wind project, and then have that portion of the electricity the project produces sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, again reducing the bill.
A Community Renewable Energy Facility must have at least two subscribers and cannot be larger than 5 MW. Once a subscription has been purchased, the electricity produced by the subscribers’ portion of the solar energy system will be credited to their monthly electric bill at a previously agreed upon rate to offset their electricity demand for that given month. Ergo, retail customers will save on their monthly electric bills by enlisting in the community solar program.
As Sol Systems pointed out before the bill was passed, the property and living arrangements of many D.C. residents don’t lend themselves to the individual use of solar power. People may live in an apartment that isn’t participating, or their property may be shaded, or their utility may not have established a mechanism from selling electricity back to the grid on an individual level. All told, the company says around 75 percent of residential buildings in the United States have physical hurdles to installing solar power. So setups like virtual net-metering are a prime opportunity to get around those obstacles.
As of 2012, nine other states had already enacted some form of virtual net-metering.
Since then, Minnesota passed a law as well, bringing the count to ten states along with the District.
Utilities were initially skeptical of the city council’s legislation, but eventually Pepco came on board. The company will have to implement a monitoring and sign up system so people can begin participating in these solar projects, and their willingness to do so is significant given the company has struggled set up basic digital solar operations in the past.
Under its current renewable portfolio standard, D.C. must build 250 megawatts of renewable power capacity by 2021. The city only has 8 megawatts installed so far, so the passage of virtual net-metering should help get more momentum going.