OPUC Seeks Public Comment by September 1 in Its Community Solar Program Docket

In an email sent to interested stakeholders on August 14, 2015, the Staff of the Oregon Public Utility Commission (the “Commission”) provided further guidance on the public comments due in Docket No. UM 1746 on September 1, 2015, and released a revised docket schedule. As we reported in our August 6, 2015, blog post, the Commission opened UM 1746 to examine a range of possible community solar programs and requested that stakeholders submit proposals for community solar designs by August 7, 2015. Seven stakeholders filed proposals or comments, including Oregon’s investor-owned utilities; Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon; joint nongovernmental organizations (NWSEED, Oregon SEIA, RNW, Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability, Oregonians for Renewable Energy Process, and NWEC); Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition; Oregon Department of Energy; and Vote Solar. Some of the proposals described specific community solar designs, while others proposed a preferred set of community solar attributes.

Interested stakeholders met with the Commission on August 11, 2015, in the first of two scheduled workshops. The Commission’s stated objective was to “hold a public proceeding with public comments and recommend a community solar program design or a set of preferred attributes that best balances the resource value benefits, costs, and impacts to ratepayers to the interim committees of the Legislative Assembly related to energy and business on or before November 1, 2015.”[1] Thus, at this point, the focus is on program design and attributes to be reflected in a report to the legislature.

The first workshop provided stakeholders an opportunity to describe their proposals and enabled the Commissioners and Staff to ask questions and clarify their understanding of the proposals. The workshop also allowed Staff and stakeholders to identify common attributes in the proposals, as well as the pros and cons of each.

At the workshop, the following attributes of community solar programs were addressed: ownership structure, system characteristics, eligibility criteria, length and terms of contracts, subscription price calculation, bill credits calculation, minimization of cost-shifting, and risk assessment. As one can imagine, the proposals varied in the definition and treatment of these attributes. The commenters differed on who should own and administer the solar system, as well as on where the system should be located and what size the system should be. Most commenters proposed that the systems could be owned by various entities, including utilities, third-party developers, and municipalities. None of the commenters proposed that only utilities should own the system, but most were open to utility ownership as an option. The question of the appropriate location for systems also produced a range of responses. Some commenters recommended that the system should be located in a utility service territory, while others suggested that systems should not be restricted in location so long as they are located in the state of Oregon. Similarly, commenters had different approaches to the size of the system. Some commenters suggested a maximum system capacity of 2MW, while others recommended a more flexible approach.

Stakeholders will have another opportunity to submit written comments to the Commission regarding community solar program designs. In order to help the Staff make a recommendation to the Commission, Staff has asked for comments by Tuesday, September 1, 2015, and has provided guidance on the type of information that it would find helpful.   In particular, Staff would like to receive reactions to the proposals offered and the discussion that occurred at the first workshop, especially with regard to which attributes would “best balance the resource value benefits, costs and impacts to ratepayers.” Staff acknowledged that commenters viewed “flexibility” as an important characteristic of community solar program design, but asked for comments that would “narrow this wide field without leading to unintended constraints.” Finally, staff asked that commenters organize their comments according to the list of attributes and potential areas of consensus presented by Staff at its first workshop, which were as follows: (1) legislative intent; (2) definition of “Community Solar” in Oregon; (3) program eligibility and limitations, including customer type, special carve-outs and subscription sizing; (4) length of contract term and right to terminate contract; (5) subscription pricing; (6) bill credits; (7) rates; and (8) calculation of energy produced. The Staff’s guidance in its entirety can be found here.

The Staff also released a revised docket schedule that provides the following time frames:

  • September 1, 2015: Written public comment due on program design proposals.
  • September 18, 2015: Staff email to provide materials for Workshop 2, including Staff draft recommendation for program design.
  • September 25, 2015: Written public comment due on Staff draft recommendation forcommunity solar program design.
  • October 16, 2015: Special public meeting with Commissioners—staff public meeting memo will provide Staff’s recommendation for Commission approval. Stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide public comment at the meeting.
  • October 30, 2015: Submit community solar program design recommendation to the Legislature (deadline is November 1, 2015).

We will continue to monitor the UM 1746 docket and other developments under HB 2941. Stay tuned for further updates.

Sources:
[1] “Staff’s PowerPoint presentation for 8-11-15 workshop (special public meeting) filed by Ruchi Sadhir,” at pg. 5; In the Matter of Public Utility Commission of Oregon, Recommendations for Community Solar Program Designs and Attributes; Docket No. UM 1746 at http://edocs.puc.state.or.us/efdocs/HAH/um1746hah125832.pdf.

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