The 55 community solar installations planned for Public Storage facilities in Maryland will create 27.9 megawatts of solar capacity – enough to power nearly 2,600 homes. Photo courtesy of Solar Landscape.

A Maryland law that permits unlimited community solar installations is presenting a new business opportunity for some commercial and industrial real estate owners.

Passed during the 2023 General Assembly session, House Bill 908 converted a small, pilot program in community solar into an expansive, permanent program.

Through the community solar model, solar companies can lease rooftop space, install and maintain a solar array, and sell the power generated to multiple individuals and businesses. The arrangement provides affordable, renewable energy to buyers who are not in a position to host or own solar installations. The Maryland law even mandates that 40 percent of power generated be sold to low- or moderate-income earners.

For CRE owners with feasible real estate, the model also provides a financially attractive method to add solar capacity to their properties.

“The old-school approach to rooftop solar — where a [solar] developer performs the engineering and construction of the installation but does not provide financing and ownership — was not as helpful to many commercial real estate clients,” said Brendon Shank, Executive Vice President for Engagement at Solar Landscape.

Community solar projects enable CRE owners to lease their rooftops to solar developers who build and maintain photo voltaic arrays. Photo courtesy of Solar Landscape.

That traditional model could involve a significant capital outlay by the CRE owner to purchase the solar array, a lengthy payback period and challenges around how to bill tenants for the power generated. The community solar model eliminates all of those things and allows CRE owners to simply lease roof space to solar power developers.

“It’s like having a new tenant, but up on your roof,” Shank said. “The State of Maryland’s commitment to supporting community solar is proving to be really valuable for all the parties involved, including the commercial real estate market.”

Public Storage has already signed an agreement with Solar Landscape to complete community solar installations at 56 of its Maryland sites. In total, that initiative will cover roughly 2.5 million square feet of rooftop space with solar panels and create 27.9 megawatts of solar capacity – enough to power nearly 2,600 homes. Due to the price of community solar power, the installations are projected to save subscribers nearly $1 million annually on their energy bills.

Community solar projects are also compatible with large, industrial buildings, Shank said.

In Owings Mills, Solar Landscape has completed a community solar installation at a Public Storage facility. It is one of 55 installations Solar Landscape is executing for Public Storage in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Solar Landscape.

Community solar installations can also meet the needs of potential tenants who want to buy clean energy, said Kristen Brandt-Unton, Vice President of ESG and Sustainability at Solar Landscape. “It creates the option for tenants to buy clean energy by subscribing to the community solar program. But it does not obligate any tenant to buy from the program.”

In addition to providing affordable, renewable power to residents of the region, community solar projects deliver additional social benefits, Brandt-Unton said. Many projects support local workforce development programs, especially training for commercial solar power installers.

In some cases, Solar Landscape partners with their CRE clients to identify local organizations the client would like to support — either through increased community engagement or educational outreach about the opportunities the solar project provides.

“That support can become a catalyst for workforce development in the region on top of energy savings for tenants, their employees and the communities where they operate,” she said.