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Bipartisan Colorado legislators introduce bill to revamp community solar program

Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL

A bipartisan group of Colorado legislators introduced a bill to greatly expand access to the clean energy transition through a revitalization of the state’s community solar program. Senate Bill SB24-207, introduced by Senate President Steve Fenberg (D–Boulder), comes at a time of unprecedented federal funding opportunities through the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act. This bill calls for a revamped community solar program that positions Colorado to capture hundreds of millions in federal dollars to upgrade the state’s grid, promote energy equity, and reduce energy costs for residents.

Most Colorado households cannot benefit from rooftop solar due to barriers like home ownership and credit score requirements. Community solar provides renters, non-profits, small businesses and low-to-moderate income (LMI) customers direct access to the clean energy transition and utility bill savings. Colorado was the first state in the nation to pass community solar legislation in 2010, but has since fallen behind other states with more modern program designs. Currently, only 1% of Xcel’s 1.6 million customers — and only 3,300 of which are income-qualified households — are able to participate in community solar due to the program’s limited size and outdated policy framework.

This bill upgrades Colorado’s community solar program by adopting policy best practices from more than 20 states. More specifically, the bill:

  • Delivers meaningful bill savings to thousands more income-qualified households;
  • Reserves at least 51% of each community solar project for income-qualified residential subscribers, which is a nation-leading requirement and tailored to the Inflation Reduction Act to maximize federal dollars flowing into the state;
  • Enhances subscriber experiences with best-in-class enrollment methods, consumer protections, and consolidated billing;
  • Prioritizes projects sited on preferred locations, like rooftops and brownfields, and drives dual-use practices like agrivolatics; and
  • Improves the methods that third-party stakeholders can develop community solar projects with investor-owned utilities.
  • Organizations and advocates from across Colorado applaud the bill’s introduction, optimistic for the opportunity it presents alongside federal funding opportunities.

“All Coloradans, regardless of income level or homeownership status, should be able to participate in the transition to renewable energy,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, sponsor of SB24-207. “This important bill removes barriers to accessing solar energy — like homeownership or credit score requirements — to ensure renters, non-profits, and small businesses can take part without breaking the bank. With unprecedented federal funding opportunities through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, now is the time to revitalize Colorado’s community solar program and ensure our state remains a leader in renewable, clean energy use.”

“Regardless of whether you are a renter or homeowner at any income level or credit score, all Coloradans should benefit from clean energy projects that keep our air clean and reduce our utility bills — especially in the communities most targeted by polluters,” said Tom Abood, Leader with Together Colorado’s Climate Justice Committee. “SB24-207 will do all of this by prioritizing community solar in disproportionately impacted communities, guaranteeing working families a 20% – 40% electric bill reduction, and helping Colorado achieve its renewable energy goals. Our collective faith traditions teach us to care for our planet, and care for the most vulnerable among us — and in this spirit we urge our legislators to support this bill.”

Senate Bill SB24-207 is expected to be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy before advancing to Senate Appropriations and then to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

Over the past decade, the number of states that have enacted policies to support third-party shared or community solar has expanded from just a few to 22 states, including Washington, D.C. A collective 6.6 gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity has been installed to date, and Wood Mackenzie’s most recent US community solar market outlook predicts that there will be 14 GWDC power installed across the country by the end of 2028.

“Community solar is the best method to democratize solar power and lower the barrier of entry to clean, affordable energy,” said Kevin Cray, Mountain West Senior Director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “With an opportunity to leverage billions of federal dollars into Colorado’s community solar program, it’s the perfect time to upgrade our program, and set a new national standard for equitable clean energy policy.”

News item from the Coalition for Community Solar Access

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