Community solar offers grid relief, energy independence | Opinion

March 14, 2022 5:45 am

(Photo by Sirisak Boakaew/Getty Images)

We have lots of problems in regards to energy. Community solar should be part of the answer.

One issue is energy infrastructure. Having a massive grid makes customers susceptible to outages from extreme weather and cyberattacks. A centralized grid where power is produced hundreds of miles away requires big, expensive transmission lines. Lawmakers in Missouri have shown that political will to support such projects is uneven at best. Massive generation projects often take years after government approval is received and construction commences, leading to massive cost overruns.

Decentralizing a portion of our state’s grid could reduce these risks. Some say we need to make it easier for customers to make power closer to where it is used. Heading down this path, under current law, suggest our state should encourage rooftop solar.

But what happens if your roof doesn’t face south or west where the sun shines the most? Or maybe you’re one of the 34% of Missourians who don’t own your roof because you rent.

Senate Bill 824, going through the Missouri Senate and sponsored by Republican Bill White, will create a community solar program which will allow households and business to subscribe to small solar facilities located in their communities and save money on their electric bills. The customer doesn’t have to buy any equipment and it’s as easy as signing up for Netflix. They simply would have the chance to subscribe to the community solar system if they so choose.

Not surprisingly, utilities do not like SB 824. They already offer community solar subscriptions, they argue. Sure, but at a premium, despite the fact solar is cheaper to generate than other forms of power.

The community solar bill will allow create a free market-based system which will create competition and innovation in an industry that desperately needs it. This will drive down costs for all ratepayers and create economic development across the state. It’s a win for customers looking for energy independence and lower utility bills. It’s a win for the grid. And it’s a win for our communities.

Energy independence. That’s another problem we face in troubled times.

Some people say: Drill, baby, drill. But Missouri should be saying: Shine, baby, shine.

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James Owen
James Owen

James Owen is the executive director of Renew Missouri. Prior to this role, he served as Missouri's Public Counsel - representing ratepayers across the state. He is an attorney and has served as a Associate Circuit Judge in Southwest Missouri.