Cloudy Days For A Washington-State Community Solar Effort

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Washington counties.
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The Backbone Campaign’s community solar project was motivated by a generous production incentive offered in Washington State for solar projects installed on public property. Campaign organizer Bill Moyer and many residents of King County, WA, hoped to keep more energy dollars in the local economy by using this incentive to create a community solar project in partnership with the county government.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing, as Bill explains in this January interview with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s John Farrell.

In trying to bring the project to fruition, Bill ran into many limitations of the state incentive program and federal rules for pooling money to invest in local solar. In this interview, Bill notes, “people’s eyes glazed over” with confusion as he tried to explain all the regulations standing between the campaign and local community solar.

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Among the most frustrating barriers were the time constraints on the incentive period, which expires in 2020. Identifying an appropriate site took a year and a half, for example, cutting into the time to find the best way to organize investors.  The state-level version of the Securities and Exchange Commission has rules that make it hard to organize capital with the clock ticking on the incentive, the project is stalled.

Despite the trials of his own project, Bill gives us reason to believe there will be better news in the future of community solar.  More and more people are looking for ways to plug what he calls “equity leaks,” dollars leaving the community, and energy is a prime opportunity.  As states improve their policies for distributed renewable energy, it will open the door to more community solar.

You can read more about the proposed Vashon community solar project in this previous CleanTechnica post.

This is the second edition of Local Energy Rules, a new ILSR podcast that is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday.  In this podcast series, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell talks with people putting together great community renewable energy projects and examining how energy policies help or hurt the development of clean, local power.  

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John Farrell

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

John Farrell has 518 posts and counting. See all posts by John Farrell