Do customers still want solar even if they can’t put it on their own house? From Orlando, the answer is a resounding Yes! Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), the municipally owned utility serving one of Florida’s largest cities, launched its Community Solar Program in March. Within six days, all 400kW were fully subscribed, and OUC had received another 300kW+worth of applications.
OUC Renewables Manager Jennifer Szaro is scrambling to line up more solar projects to bring into the program to meet customer demand. “We never dreamed it would sell out in six days,” she said. Within hours of the press coverage announcing the project’s success, Ms. Szaro’s phone started ringing – other major Florida utilities wanted to know how OUC had pulled it off.
The initial shared solar project is a 1632 panel canopy structure atop an OUC parking lot – a can’t-miss sight from busy Interstate 4. Customers sign up for kw-blocks of energy from the shared solar project. Initially, they’ll pay a slight premium (1-3 cents/kWh above their normal rate) for the solar power, but the value comes in the ability to lock in that rate for up to 25 years, which presumably will result in savings as the cost of standard grid electricity rises.
OUC President Dan Kirby was the first customer to sign up. Altogether, 38 customers will participate in the initial 400kW project. OUC staff were surprised to see 44% of the applicants request 15kW, the maximum allowed. Ms. Szaro said the energy produced by 15kW would cover the needs of a typical high-usage residential customer. Several small commercial customers will also participate in this first round. The program stats as of March 28 were:
In a city where 55% of the housing units are in multifamily buildings, creating the opportunity for customers to participate in offsite shared solar projects opens up a huge new market for clean energy. Large commercial customers like Universal Studios have expressed interest as well, though they were not able to participate in this initial offering because OUC will have to figure out how to account for their demand-based rates.
Utilities across the country are embracing shared renewable energy as a way to meet customer demand for clean energy and avoid “departing load customers” – those who choose to get their energy from a home solar system or, where they’re allowed, a competitive supplier. OUC is already analyzing opportunities for growing the program. Participation in the next shared solar project would likely be offered at the same 13 cents/kWh, because, as Ms. Szaro noted, “There’s clearly a market at that price.”
For more info on shared renewables across the U.S., Vote Solar is tracking all the action at sharedrenewables.org.
Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.