Lights go out on shared solar

Sen. Bob Duff

Sen. Bob Duff

Legislation that would have helped Connecticut residents benefit from solar electricity systems even if their homes couldn’t support a solar system is dead for this legislative session.

“We were very close to an agreement,” said Energy and Technology Committee co-chair, Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who along with House co-chair Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, had fought for a robust program along with solar industry advocates in the face of strong industry opposition.

But in the end, Duff said, it was the solar industry that scuttled the deal – and he pointed at the national group Vote Solar that has been championing the shared solar concept nationally, not the local advocates.

“Unfortunately solar advocates kept moving the goal posts,” Duff said. “I thought utilities were very reasonable. They bent over backwards on a program they didn’t want.”

Mike Trahan, executive director of the local industry group Solar Connecticut, had invited Vote Solar in because of its expertise on such a complex subject.

“If the legislation had been approved, the committee would have done in few months what has taken other states years to do,” he said. “I’m somewhat amazed that the committee chairs got this far given the different points of view.”

With about 80 percent of homes in the state unable to have solar installed because their roofs face the wrong way, they’re blocked by trees or are rental properties, advocates had pushed for legislation that would essentially allow for virtual solar power. Instead of putting panels on a house, they would be installed as a solar field. Homeowners subscribe to the power it generates.

Utilities had worried that the project, also known as community solar, would be an unregulated mini utility. Solar champions were unhappy with the initial legislation, which called for two community projects over three years. They argued that since shared solar exists in 10 other states, there was no need for a small pilot.

Duff and Reed also advocated a larger program. “I’m very frustrated and disappointed in the solar advocates. I think they lost a huge opportunity to advance the issue in this state,” Duff said.

Hannah Masterjohn, a spokeswoman for Vote Solar, said, “Unfortunately, we ran out of time this session to reach consensus.”

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