For most of us living in the U.S., the only way to directly support new clean energy is to put solar panels on our rooftops.
But what if you rent your house, or can’t afford to buy or finance panels, or have a shady rooftop that isn’t a good fit for solar? These problems add up to a huge gap in access: Almost two-thirds of Americans, or 85 million households, fall into one of these categories.
The solution is community solar, which allows anyone to directly support a new solar project in their community and get cheaper, cleaner energy at home. Instead of installing panels on your roof, you subscribe to a solar farm in your area for free. As the solar farm generates energy, you earn savings on your power bill and more clean energy is added to your local community.
Arcadia, the technology company I started with the vision of providing people a way to use cleaner energy at home, is the largest manager of these projects in the U.S., and we’ve pioneered a no-credit check, no long-term contract model that is consumer-friendly and opens access to everyone—regardless of economic status.
But community solar still isn’t an option for everyone. While we’ve been building a software platform to expand easy clean-energy access nationwide, community solar is still limited. Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed some statewide policies to support community solar.
I’m hopeful that we can decarbonize our energy sector, but to do it faster, we need community solar available across the country. That’s why I’m calling for President Joe Biden and the new Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to expand third-party community solar to all 50 states.
Last year, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4447, a bill that would require every state to consider adopting community solar. Called the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, the bill would have enabled state regulators to enact community solar programs without legislative action, which would fast-track new programs across the country. The text of the bill stipulated that “each electric utility shall offer a community solar program that provides all ratepayers, including low-income ratepayers, equitable and demonstrable access to such community solar program.” The bill died in the Senate, and now it’s time for our lawmakers to get it over the finish line.
There’s no time to waste. Our country is struggling with a devastating recession, and some of the hardest-hit people—renters and low-income families—are precisely the ones who need community solar to see the benefits of clean energy, and lower electricity bills.
The benefits go beyond energy users. With federal leadership, the U.S. could have 84 gigawatts of community solar by 2030—enough to power 14 million homes. Building all of those solar projects will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. A recent survey conducted by Penn State University found that opening a community solar market in Pennsylvania could generate an estimated $1.8 billion in economic impact, create more than $793 million in labor income, and support more than 11,000 jobs across that state alone.
These projects will also create new income for the owners of the land where the projects are located, who often include farmers struggling with low commodity prices. And solar projects create new tax revenue, which is vital for state and local governments that are fighting to provide basic services.
Arcadia will be working at the federal and state levels to expand access to community solar this year. If you’d like to see the Community Solar Consumer Choice Act become law, let your representatives know. Because if we truly want to decarbonize the energy sector, we need national community solar legislation, and we need it now.
Kiran Bhatraju is the CEO and founder of Arcadia.