Seattle City Council on Sept. 3 greenlighted a pilot program to encourage commercial customers investing in intermediate-sized solar arrays.

The two-year pilot establishes standard contract terms for so-called “large” solar installations with capacity between 100 kW and 2 MW, which are too small for negotiated wholesale power contracts and too big for the 100 kW cap of the state’s net-metering laws.

The program aims to make it easier for customers to decide about investing in such systems, to streamline Seattle City Light’s work, and minimize cost-shifting to nonparticipating customers.

The City Council approved a slightly amended version of Council Bill 119516 in a 9-0 vote. The council’s Housing, Health, Energy, and Workers’ Rights Committee moved the proposal to the full council in an Aug. 15 vote (CU No. 1915 [10]).

The amendments clarified that capacity would be measured in AC, and participating customers would receive the most current export rate regardless of when they signed an interconnection agreement.

Customers can enroll through 2021. However, SCL can choose to extend the end date. The program guarantees a minimum export price of 1.8 cents/kWh through the end of 2035. The initial export rate is 3.5 cents/kWh. SCL will update the price every two years, largely based on monthly Mid-C-market forward prices weighted by an expected monthly shape for a typical solar photovoltaic system in Seattle.

The contracts for the four existing large solar systems in Seattle will remain in place despite the new program.

The council also unanimously approved SCL's entry into the Western EIM in April 2020.

Joining the EIM “is a component of a much larger conversation that we must be having around how we create greener energy solutions,” Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda said before CB 119571 passed in an 8-0 vote. Councilwoman Kshama Sawant was absent during the vote.

“It is absolutely the right thing for us to be doing right now,” Councilman Mike O’Brien said, but cautioned that “there is some risk” to participating in the market.

“It will require ongoing diligence from the City Council in the years to come” to ensure that it is benefitting the city and that SCL has the necessary resources to effectively participate, he said.

Since the council first considered EIM participation in 2016, SCL has addressed concerns raised by the city’s lawmakers, O’Brien said. “I hope it works out well.”