Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has received permission from California state regulators to offer its electric customers a community solar option. PG&E’s green option will allow customers to buy into a pool of local solar energy. The utility expects to start enrolling customers in the fourth quarter of this year.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that only a quarter of residential rooftop area is suitable for solar due to structural, shading or ownership issues, so a community option would expand access to solar.
PG&E will buy energy for the program from newly developed small and mid-sized solar projects located within its service area. Participating residential and commercial customers can choose to cover either 50 or 100 percent of their energy use. They will pay the incremental cost of the new solar energy they consume, as well as related program costs. The initial estimated premium of two-to-three cents per kWh is likely to decrease over time as solar costs decline relative to the cost of PG&E’s standard power, which currently is more than 25 percent renewable.
Under a separate program option, customers will be able to contract directly with a third-party developer for a share of the output of a local solar project.
PG&E’s service area spans Northern and Central California.
A study released in September 2014 by the Solar Electric Power Association found that 87 percent of community solar projects started within the previous 18 months were initiated by utilities.