Nuanced Analysis on the Impact of Solar Resource, Electricity Rates and Virtual Net Metering Affecting Community Solar Success in Vermont, Pennsylvania and Mississippi

Open Access
Cohen, Jesse Mac
Area of Honors:
Energy Engineering
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jeffrey Brownson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Sarma V Pisupati, Honors Advisor
  • Community Solar
  • Virtual Net Metering
  • solar resource
  • electricity rates
  • Vermont solar
  • Pennsylvania solar
  • Mississippi solar
Community solar, the practice whereby a group of participants pool investments for a share in the costs and benefits of a photovoltaic system, recognizes the limitations of on-site solar projects. Research to date has focused on blueprinting community solar projects, with Guides To and Handbooks establishing a template for community solar development. This paper contributes to the community solar discourse in three ways. First, by examining the indicators that point toward locales poised for community solar, it addresses a key shortcoming in the field, exploring the more nuanced and less structured nature behind what makes community solar successful. Second, scrutinizing the differences between a proxy group conducive to community solar, Vermont, and a control group neutral in its stance, Pennsylvania, this study deduces the factors that make community solar achievable. And third, in highlighting the negligible difference in solar resource and solar electric power production of the two sites, this paper endeavors to show that the restrictions on community solar are not physical, but instead rooted in the limitations set by local market rates and government policies. The study found the indicators that most strongly identify a community fit for community solar development are virtual net metering laws, electricity rates and state interest in renewables. Other notable stimuli that form a suite of measures to discern a locale's suitability for community solar include strong renewable portfolio standards, interconnection standards, creative financing options, as well as state economic and geographic contexts. The concluding analysis of Vermont and Pennsylvania against the negative control of Mississippi highlights the ability for any state in the U.S. to sustain community solar projects; it is now up to the next generation of solar researchers to continue expanding its practice.