For the first time in the U.S., community solar will be offered on an opt-out basis to the communities of Brockport and Lima, New York, in partnership with Joule Community Power. The New York State Department of Public Service (DPS) has approved the implementation of the pilot in Lima and Brockport as a component of Joule’s Finger Lakes Community Choice program. Community outreach, public education and preparations for implementation to 3,000-plus households begin this month.

“The Village of Brockport converted to municipal solar in December of 2019, and we have been waiting for the moment that we can offer all of our residents community solar with guaranteed savings under a single electric bill,” said Mayor Margay Blackman. “With Joule and the Finger Lakes Community Choice solar program, that moment has arrived.”

Community solar lets households to receive the benefits of solar energy — lower electricity costs and reduced carbon gas emissions — without having to install panels on their home or property. Instead, a utility account holder subscribes to a nearby solar project, and a portion of the electricity generated by the solar farm gets credited directly to the subscriber’s utility bill. The guaranteed discount, in the form of solar bill credits, is made possible by New York’s incentives for renewable energy generation.

“The CCA solar program that Joule Assets has created meets the Village of Lima’s long-sought goal of providing residents with 100% renewable energy at a 10% cost saving. The elegance of the program is that residents don’t have to take any action to benefit and the solar credits will appear automatically on their regular National Grid bill each month,” said Lima Mayor John Correll.

Opt-Out Community Solar

The milestone approval of opt-out community solar by the DPS lets communities, rather than individual consumers, to directly support the development of renewable energy generation in the state and opens the door to a more inclusive model of community participation.

The community choice aggregation (CCA) solar program allows municipalities to enroll their entire population in community solar, leveraging the collective buying power of its residents at a large enough scale to secure better terms through a single competitive bidding process with solar providers. When used in conjunction with CCA supply programs, residents can augment their electricity bill savings and combat climate change on multiple fronts, thereby maximizing impact of their participation and their electricity bill savings.

The Pilot

Until the approval of the pilot by the DPS, those wishing to enroll in a community solar program were required to undergo a soft credit check, sign a contract with a community distributed generation (CDG) provider, and pay separately for the solar credits. Therefore, before opt-out community solar, subscribers would pay a reduced monthly utility bill as well as a second bill from the solar CDG project developer for their discounted solar credits that lowered their utility bill.

“This DPS approval signals a significant win for efforts to scale up renewable energy in New York State,” said Jessica Stromback, managing director of Joule Assets. “Joule is proud to have spearheaded this effort with our partners in Brockport and Lima, and hopes that this structure that is taking off now in New York will also expand across the U.S. in order to scale renewable energy nationally in the fight against climate change.”

With the launch of the pilot in Brockport and Lima, however, the municipalities sign a community-level agreement with the solar project developer on behalf of their residents and businesses, enabling eligible account holders to be automatically enrolled in the program with any credits or charges to be accounted for in the consumer’s National Grid electricity bill. National Grid will continue to deliver electricity to all residents and remains responsible for repairs, maintenance and service.

Residents can opt-out of the program at any time with no penalty, but would lose the guaranteed 10% price reductions on the solar bill credits that lower their annual electricity costs.

While benefiting communities and residents, opt-out community solar also provides benefits to solar project developers. By making agreements with municipalities, developers can gain enrollment certainty and acquire customers at scale.

Joule Gives Back

Joule has established a community solar program that gives back to the community. As an added incentive to sign up and to encourage communities to make the shift toward clean, locally-sourced energy, Joule established “Sustainability Funds” for participating municipalities. Funded through a community solar program, based on enrollment numbers, communities can use their funds to finance future sustainability projects of their own choosing.

“We are delighted to be able to cooperate with our municipal partners in the Villages of Lima and Brockport on this first-of-a-kind program,” said Mike Gordon, CEO of Joule. “It is always inspiring to work with far-sighted local leadership looking to better the situations of their own constituents, while at the same time supporting a larger cause.”

By reducing sales and marketing numbers to attract enough customers to make a solar farm viable, Joule is able to channel savings back into the community.

News item from Joule Community Power