August 13, 2020

SunCentral

One Bill to Rule Them All(?): Utility Consolidated Billing and the Future of Community Solar

Kacie Peters

Part 1: Introduction

To say that distributed solar has a storied history with utilities might be an understatement. After years of battles over net metering regulations, interconnection practices, and standby charges (to name a few), it would be fair to assume that the solar industry would be very hesitant to give a utility more control of our precious assets. Just as politics makes strange bedfellows, so does customer billing. Community solar programs in at least three states are exploring the idea of having the utility directly bill for community solar subscriptions, and the industry has encouraged the transition.

Indeed, utility consolidated billing (UCB) has been championed as the solution to the challenge that has plagued the growth of community solar nationwide; subscribers do not like paying a bill to the utility, and to a community solar provider, it is confusing and a hassle. Anything that makes enough subscribers unhappy can potentially sink a project — subscribers failing to remember to pay a bill or leaving a complicated billing platform lead to lost revenue and potential disqualification from a program. If subscribers only had one bill from their trusted energy provider, logically, the inherent risks for community solar disappear, as does the need for the third-party billing platforms that managed them… or do they?

In this blog series we will explore the role of community solar management platforms, the potential risks that utility consolidated billing could create for asset owners, and the future of management services in community solar. Essentially, with UCB on the horizon, is this the end of third-party community solar management providers as we know them?