A bill to support community solar projects in Alaska appears close to becoming law

solar panels
Multiple rows of solar panels at Whistle Hill in Soldotna. (Hunter Morrison/KDLL)

A bill to regulate community solar projects is moving quickly through the Alaska Legislature and appears close to becoming law. 

Community solar projects are small-scale solar farms that local ratepayers can buy into, in exchange for lower electricity bills. Advocates say the model provides affordable, clean electricity to residents in different living situations. 

For more than a decade, Alaska homeowners have been permitted to install solar panels to power their homes and sell any excess power back to their local utility, a practice called net metering. 

Phil Wight, a policy analyst with the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, said that’s a great deal for homeowners. But he said, renters, people with shady roofs, or people who can’t afford to install solar panels don’t have the same opportunity.

“Community solar allows everyday Alaskans to invest in solar that is at a centralized facility. People own shares of it, and then get a proportion of that power produced taken off of their energy bill.”

Wight worked with Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski’s office to draft the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in late April. 

Chugach Electric Association, the largest utility in the state, recently had a community solar project approved by state regulators. Interior utility Golden Valley Electric Association has also discussed the idea. Wight said passing the bill would speed up the process of setting up each project.

“We really want to create the clear regulatory framework in the market for dozens of these facilities to take off,” Wight said. “Rather than having a project here or there that has to go through this lengthy review each time.” 

Wight said community solar could also play a role in mitigating the natural gas shortfall facing Alaska’s Railbelt.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded Tanana Chiefs Conference, Alaska Energy Authority and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation a total of $125 million to deploy rooftop solar and community solar and battery storage projects in the state. 

“It’s important to pass this bill so that we can take advantage of those federal dollars that are coming in,” Wielechowski said. He added that he’s “pretty confident” the bill will pass before the end of this session. 

The bill is in the House Rules Committee awaiting a vote on the House floor.

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Kavitha here.

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