Community Solar gets its day at the Oregon Legislature

OSEIA Community Solar Subcommittee Chair Charlie Coggeshall organized an informational hearing on June 11th in the House Energy and Environment Committee.  OSEIA members Charlie Coggeshall, Evan Ramsey, Sean Micken, and Bridget Callahan were joined by PUC staff, PGE and Pacific Power to discuss the current status of the program.

The hearing went well and there were few surprises - everyone took their standard positions. The PUC said they were doing the best they can with a challenging task working with difficult legislation. The utilities said they want their customers to be happy and to have a community solar option but they have major concerns about cost shift. The advocates/industry highlighted that the demand is clearly there, but that economics and uncertainty are very real dangers to the success of the program. CUB walked the line of recognizing customers want solar, and that some subsidies are necessary, while also tipping their hat to the PUC for doing a good job. 

This hearing will elevate the stakeholder engagement over the summer and increase the pressure on the PUC regarding program expectations. It also provides an increased sense that more eyes are watching. In addition, it sets a precedent and establishes a more educated foundation for potential follow-ups with the legislature in the future based on progress or lack thereof with the implementation and/or program more generally.

High points:

  • Rep. Helm asked the utilities about what the actual cost impact really looks like after the utilities complained that all customers would have to bear the burden of the program.  After Rep. Helm’s question, PAC admitted it was a fraction of a percent (which he actually over-stated) and a few dollars or less a year per customer.

  • Rep. Helm offered to provide legislative help for any needs to ensure a successful program. This was stated to the PUC.

  • Bridget's call out to customer interest/demand/expectations and even a connection made with Rep. Reschke and photo of his cousin in an image on one of the slides.

  • Sean's catch-all discussion around all the issues impacting the industry's interest and concerns with the program, and particularly highlighting the limited territory and lack of interconnection options for PAC in an exchange with Rep. Findley, and the Bend/Redmond connection made with Rep. Zika.

  • Evan's call-out of community solar's synergy with objectives surfacing from SB 978, and for the need to ensure savings for low-income participation (or any participation) to occur was a strong ending to the session.

  • PUC's point that the RVOS comes out this summer, which might give the PUC greater discretion to release more capacity at retail at the launch since the rate will most likely be low. That combined with increase project economic understanding and need for spreading admin costs all plays to our arguments. 

The low points:

  • The utilities aggressive in their discussion of cost-shift and their clear lack of responding to the "elephants in the room" issues of PAC interconnection and Willamette Valley permit barriers.

  • The reality check at the very end when Rep. Sollman asked if solar panels could just be put on wheels and moved around given the land use issues in "eastern" Oregon. However, she indicated that she was interested in a solar tour this summer and we’d like to put one together.

If you’d like to participate in a legislative tour of your solar project this summer please email Angela at oseia.org.  Residential, commercial, public building and utility scale – the legislators need some education!

OSEIA Oregon Solar