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A Push To Expand A Struggling Sector Of Solar Energy In Connecticut

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Think of “shared solar” as a community garden, but for energy.

That’s the description from Claire Coleman, an attorney with Connecticut Fund for the Environment, an environmental advocacy group.

“A community garden helps families that can’t grow their own vegetables -- particularly those who rent or live in an apartment,” Coleman said. “Shared solar can allow renters -- including small businesses and lower-income residents -- access [to] clean energy that, currently, they can’t access.”

In shared solar, also called “community” solar, customers buy into a local solar array and get a credit on their utility bill for power produced.

States like Massachusetts have embraced the idea. But in Connecticut, it's been slow going.  

It took years just to get three small pilot projects greenlit in Thompson, Bloomfield, and Shelton. None are online yet. And Coleman said state law won't allow any more to be built.

Because of that, she’s pushing for an expansion to shared solar in the state legislature. It’s a concept supported by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Connecticut Green Bank.

But utilities Eversource and United Illuminating oppose the idea.

In testimony submitted this week to the energy and technology committee, they said community solar isn't cost competitive when compared to larger photovoltaic projects.

State Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz said community solar shouldn’t be expected to be as cost effective a grid-scale solar, because it’s usually smaller and entails greater risk of attracting subscribers.

“But, in OCC’s view, they should be expected to be less expensive than rooftop solar,” wrote Katz. “Where community solar projects are more expensive than rooftop projects … the case for supporting community solar essentially evaporates.”

Eversource and United Illuminating said legislators should hold off on any changes to Connecticut’s shared solar law until its three pilot projects begin to flip on later this year.

Copyright 2018 Connecticut Public

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.