Community solar “canopy” over a parking lot. Cooler cars, cool renewable energy.

Since the election, the trend of environmental news has been so awful that you may not believe this positive development: In one to two years, you will be able to buy locally harvested, solar-generated electricity priced lower than that coming from your utility.

“Community solar will make it possible for anyone in Maryland to directly access and benefit from renewable energy,” explains Corey Ramsden, program director for the nonprofit MD SUN.

Community Solar’s rules and tariffs are almost set. Pilot projects are in the works. And once the beta projects are analyzed, Community Solar will be ready for prime time in a year or two.

Thanks to legislation codified in 2015 by your state senators and delegates, Maryland renters, businesses, low- to high-income homeowners, farmers, crabbers, Republicans, Democrats, independents, city dwellers and even folks living on a mountaintop, will be able to buy affordable solar energy. Here’s how.

Solar Gardens

A major solar issue is that a good chunk of our rooftops are not ideal for solar panels. Yet there are vast acres of commercial rooftops, parking lots and open areas that sit baking in the sun all day long. These more solar-friendly sites can be turned into community solar installations. 

The idea is simple: Any Marylander who pays a utility bill has the option to buy or invest in a portion of a larger solar installation at another location. The solar energy generated by their portion of the offsite solar unit is credited back to their BGE, Pepco, Delmarva, SMECO or Potomac Edison utility bill.

How Community Solar works. Credit: MD SUN

The actual electrons coming into the community solar customer’s building — a single-family house, shack, condo, cabin, apartment, boat or business — will continue to be drawn off the “electricity grid.” Because more renewable energy will be generated through community solar projects, the electric grid will distribute a higher portion of clean and renewable electricity.

It’s complicated

Though Community Solar’s concept is simple, the behind-the-scenes systems are tricky. Transitioning from a century-old, centralized and monopolistic electricity system based on fossil-fueled plants dumping electricity into a massive grid isn’t going to be easy. There will be various pricing plans for users — purchase agreements to buy at a certain price and direct investments. Local leasing and land-use laws will need to be hashed out, as will business models between generators and utilities. Lastly, there will be winners — consumers and our climate — and potential losers – utilities and fossil fuel providers. As evidenced by the oil and gas industry’s federal-level battle, losers don’t go down with a fight.

The most important thing to know at this point is that Maryland values renewable energy. Our state is joining 12 others plus D.C. in designing and codifying a community solar system that encourages participation to build out locally generated renewable energy.

Not you? You have work to do. Cut your electricity to a minimum.

In this early stage, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Use this “pilot” stage to lower your electricity use to a minimum. Here’s how.
  2. Maryland Public Service Commission rates and tariffs are attractive for consumers. Community solar-generated electricity will be priced attractively so that community solar users can save versus conventional, or “dirty,” energy.
  3. Sign up for MD SUN’s newsletter to stay current. MD SUN is a member of the the Community Power Network, a national coalition of grassroots groups focusing on making renewable energy accessible for everyone.
  4. Want a deeper dive? Check out the Solar Energy Industry Association’s Community Solar Guide.
Here’s the “Why?” Climate change is here. Credit: NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin.

Laurel Peltier writes the environment GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.