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Conn. Lawmakers consider expansion to state's shared solar program

solar panel
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public Radio
Panels at the state's only operational "shared solar" array in Bloomfield, Conn.

The idea behind shared solar energy is simple. If your house is bad for panels, or you’re renting and can’t put them on your roof, you can “buy into” a community solar array located somewhere else.

But Connecticut’s execution of that idea has been slow. In Bloomfield, for example, only one shared solar array has come online since the state launched a pilot program in 2017, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Right now, that’s the only operational shared solar array in Connecticut.

So lawmakers are working on a bill that could allow for the construction of larger-scale solar projects statewide. Supporters say the changes could spur additional development and bring solar energy to people with lower incomes.

“Anytime that you are breaking down barriers to entry … you can invariably invite additional competition and hopefully lower the cost of all the projects in the queue,” Marissa Gillett, chairman of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, told members of the state’s Energy and Technology Committee Thursday.

But several state leaders and environmental advocates urged lawmakers to amend part of the proposal, which would require some shared solar arrays to be built in lower-income communities.

“The benefit provided by [shared solar] for residents of environmental justice communities is access to affordable, clean energy,” Shannon Laun, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, pointed out in a written testimony to the Committee. “Requiring a [shared solar array] to be located in the community would not increase the community benefits, and in fact could impose siting burdens in some communities.”

“Such communities are frequently overburdened by energy infrastructure,” Laun wrote.

Lori Brown, with the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, raised another concern with the zoning portion of the bill.

“Requiring the facility to be located in the community could also raise costs, as there could be more appropriate cost-effective siting locations outside of environmental justice communities,” Brown wrote.

Thursday’s public hearing is still in the early stages of the legislation. The measure must be called for a vote, approved by the legislature, and signed by the Governor to become law.