Oregonians will soon be able to reap the benefits of solar power without installing panels on their roofs.

The Oregon Community Solar Program gives customers of the state’s three investor-owned electric utilities, Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Idaho Power, the option to subscribe in local solar projects and receive credit for their share of the energy produced. The program will be open to renters and homeowners, individuals and organizations, with the credits being applied against their bills.

Community solar projects can be located on the roofs of office buildings, schools or churches — or on open ground. Project managers will plan and build the solar facilities, which any electric consumer can subscribe to. 

The state approved the creation of the program in 2016, but has been slow in getting the community solar systems up and running. The regulatory framework was finalized this year and applications can be submitted starting in January. The first projects are expected to begin generating energy in late 2020 or 2021.

Minnesota, Colorado and Maryland are among the states that have launched community solar programs. Oregon is taking steps to make sure large commercial participants don’t dominate the program and is requiring that more than 10% of capacity is set aside of low-income subscribers.  

Oregon already is in the forefront of renewable power, and the state has more potential. Hydroelectric dams usually are responsible for more than half the electricity produced in the state, and as much as 80% of the total in years with heavy snowfall, according to the Energy Information Administration. Wind power accounted for more than 10% of the power generated in the state in 2018. 

The cost of generating electricity from the strong winds off Orgeon’s coast using offshore windfarms has tumbled by about two-thirds since a test project ended in 2016, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in October. The state has the third-most promising geothermal resources in the U.S. after California and Nevada, the EIA said.

“Overall, the prospects for offshore wind in Oregon look promising for large-scale electricity generation,” the NREL report said

The state will have to do a lot more to meet its goals. Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires that 50% of electricity used in the state come from renewables by 2040. Most of Oregon’s hydropower comes from dams built decades ago and isn’t eligible for credit toward the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which is intended to encourage new renewable development. Republican lawmakers left the state in June to deny the Democrats the quorum they needed to pass a carbon tax bill.

  • On Dec. 20, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved 45 participants for its Community Solar Energy Pilot Program. This is part of Governor Phil Murphy’s aim to transition the state to 100% clean energy by 2050. 
  • A community solar project that came online in September is expected to provide energy to 12,000 low-income customers in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys.