HB 1509 empowers historically underserved and disadvantaged Washingtonians with access to the state’s new renewable energy subscription program

Olympia, Wash. — Washington State Representative David Hackney (D-King County) today introduced HB 1509, a bill that would expand equitable access to the benefits of clean, reliable, affordable, and locally sited solar power to all Washingtonians. Co-sponsored by Representative Beth Doglio (D-Thurston County), the Fair Access to Community Solar Act is a clear priority for state lawmakers, whose recent progress in climate, clean energy, and environmental justice policymaking is due in no small part to the support and leadership of the Inslee administration.

“Washington is a national leader in renewable energy policy, but there’s still room for improvement—especially in the implementation of a competitive community solar program that will ensure energy justice and equity to disadvantaged residents and business owners across the state. That’s what makes this legislation so important.” said Derek Chernow, Western Director at Coalition for Community Solar (CCSA).

Community solar projects are smaller scale installations of solar arrays sited on landfills, former industrial sites, private lands, and other preferred areas in proximity to the utility customers they’re intended to serve, including households, small businesses, and public service organizations. Conventionally, state community solar programs empower ratepayers with the choice to enroll as subscribers to a community solar project, which enables them to receive credits on their electricity bills based on their share of the project’s energy generation.

“There’s new momentum behind community solar in Washington, and Governor Inslee’s role in reaching this latest milestone cannot be discounted,” said Mason Rolph, President of Olympia Community Solar. “This new bill will ensure that the recent expansion of the state’s low-income solar incentive program, delivered last year with Governor Inslee’s enactment of HB 1814, benefits all Washingtonians. HB 1509 recognizes solar is not just a climate solution, it is also a vehicle for economic justice.”

There are two key provisions of the Fair Access to Community Solar Act that will advance the mutual energy justice goals of Governor Inslee and leadership in the state legislature.

First, the bill establishes a virtual net metering (VNM) program. This ensures that ratepayers participating in a Washington community solar project (i.e. community solar subscribers) earn a credit on their monthly utility bill representing the value of their share of the project’s generated electricity at the time it’s delivered to the grid.

Second, the bill requires that 50% of those subscribed to a community solar project be either a low-income ratepayer, or an organization providing services to low-income families, such as a qualifying nonprofit, tribal agency, or public agency, thus ensuring that bill savings are directed to Washington communities that need it most.

HB 1509 reforms multiple components of Washington’s existing low-income solar incentive program, including:

  • Enables subscribers to retain their subscription status and continue receiving their due utility bill credits if they move to a new address within the same electric territory.
  • Directs the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to enforce various consumer protection provisions, including a number of provisions meant to protect low-income ratepayers specifically.
  • Align Washington State’s community solar program with new Federal and State funding opportunities, including the Inflation Reduction Act and Washington State University low-income community solar program.
  • Craft the State’s first truly open market for community solar, accelerating private investment, creating new jobs, and spurring deployment of the fast-growing segment of the solar industry.

“The lack of a state community solar policy has precluded millions of Washingtonians from participating in the clean energy economy,” said Markus Virta, President of the Washington Solar Energy Industries Association (WASEIA). “But with this new policy, solar companies around the state will for the first time be able to serve renters, families whose homes aren’t ideal for solar, and families who can’t afford a rooftop solar installation of their own.”

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The Coalition for Community Solar Access is a national coalition of businesses and nonprofits working to expand customer choice and access to solar for all American households and businesses through community solar. Our mission is to empower every American energy consumer with the option to choose local, clean and affordable community solar. We work with customers, utilities, local stakeholders and policymakers to develop and implement policies and best practices that ensure community solar programs provide a win, win, win for all, starting with the customer. For more information, visit https://www.communitysolaraccess.org and follow the group on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.