The First National Community Solar Summit: A Kick-off for National Collaboration to Expand Solar Access

Leaders from federal and state government agencies (including representatives from Congress, the White House, U.S. Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency), non-profit organizations, and the private sector gathered at the White House on November 17, 2015 for the first National Community Solar Summit. This was the first face-to-face gathering of the National Community Solar Partnership, which was announced by the White House in July 2015 as an effort “to expand solar access to all Americans, with specific emphasis on low and moderate income households.” The agenda for the summit included: discussions on how the federal government can help advance community solar; success stories for existing community solar programs throughout the country; state and utility roles in community solar; financing mechanisms for low- and moderate-income households; and approaches to future collaboration on community solar.

As a Partnership member, West Monroe Partners attended and contributed to the discussion at the summit. We left the summit with four key takeaways:

  1. Given the number of high-ranking government officials in attendance, expanding solar access through community solar is a high priority for the Administration.
  2. Based on the diversity of the attendees—in terms of sectors of the economy and region—it is clear that there is a lot of interest in this topic throughout the country.
  3. States are at vastly different points in terms of development and maturity of community solar programs. Some states, such as Colorado, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, have enabling policies on the books and many examples of existing projects. Other states, like Illinois, Virginia, and Texas, are looking for policy changes and/or are considering small pilot projects to get started. The hope is that this Partnership will allow states with few or no community solar programs to leapfrog and learn from the examples of more experienced states.
  4. New approaches to program design and financing for community solar programs are still being developed and tested. There is a lot of room for creativity and innovation in this space.

At the end of the National Community Solar Summit, attendees expressed significant optimism in terms of the potential for community solar and the creative new approaches that will likely result from collaboration among Partnership members. We are just at the beginning of what could and should become a significant shift in how renewable energy is sourced. Innovative strategies are still being developed and forward-thinking utilities, government agencies, and non-profits are getting engaged now.

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