E&E Publishing: Heinrich to introduce communal solar bill

By:  Hannah Northey

Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico is prepared to unveil legislation today that would allow residents tapping into communal solar projects to offset power from traditional power plants and more easily connect to the grid.

Heinrich's bill, S. 1723, the "Promoting Renewable Energy with Shared Solar Act of 2015," would amend the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 by adding a standard to the law that requires utilities to allow community solar projects of up to 2 megawatts in size to connect to the grid.

Power from the small solar units would then be credited directly to consumers using the electricity, offsetting their regular costs. The legislation also would establish a timeline for states to consider the new standard.

Heinrich's bill would allow a greater number of consumers to tap into solar resources. Currently, about a dozen states have policies in place fostering shared renewable policies, according to Heinrich's office, and the bill would encourage other states to do the same.

The legislation arrives on the heels of the White House announcing a new initiative aimed at boosting solar energy generation in low-income communities.

The Energy Department's National Community Solar Partnership provides residents and businesses in moderate and low-income areas with access to low-cost financing for rooftop solar projects (E&E Daily, July 7).

And Heinrich has been at the center of a growing discussion with other grid-savvy members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on how to bolster utility-scale renewables, energy storage and distributed generation in a comprehensive energy package.

He's joined forces with members like independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, a former utility executive, to float legislation, S. 1434, to establish a national energy storage standard for most state-regulated utilities to use batteries, flywheels and other storage.

Another measure, S. 1017, would give federal regulators backstop authority to approve high-priority transmission projects that face excessive delay from state or local regulators (E&E Daily, June 11).