By Todd Olinsky-Paul, Project Director, CESAIt’s an exciting time in the solar PV field. Prices have fallen so fast and so far that in many states, solar is becoming competitive with grid-purchased electricity. And although we are currently seeing a rush to install before the scheduled reduction of the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit at the end of 2016, some studies show that solar will continue to be competitive in many jurisdictions even at the reduced 10% ITC for commercial systems.  

In a number of states too, solar incentives have begun to decline. With solar looking more and more as though it will be able to stand on its own, discussion has begun to focus on the future role of states with regard to solar. If incentives won’t be needed to get the technology from lab to rooftop, what should state energy offices be doing?

While it’s true that solar is more competitive than ever, it is still not an equal-access commodity; and competitive pricing may not help much if you don’t own property or enjoy a good credit rating. For this reason a number of CESA member states have expressed interest in programs, such as community solar, that could help make the technology accessible to those who have not heretofore been able to access it.

Now Vermont has taken the concept a step farther, with a financing program for community solar projects that will buy down interest rates for residents who need to borrow in order to participate. The Vermont Community Solar Loan Program, administered by the Vermont Public Service Department’s Clean Energy Development Fund, will provide affordable financing to help low-income Vermonters buy an ownership interest in community solar projects with up to 500 kW capacity. The interest rate buy-down will be funded through support from the SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge II, and the loans will be administered through the Vermont State Employees Credit Union. The program will offer unsecured or secured loans up to $40,000, with terms up to 15 years.

The program has garnered some national attention, notably as part of a White House announcement on solar access. The program is on target for an imminent statewide launch, with details to be available soon on the VT PSD website.