OPUC Prohibits the Use of the “Agent Subscription Model” in Oregon’s Community Solar Program

On October 6, 2022, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (the Commission) issued an order prohibiting the use of the “agent subscription model” in the Oregon Community Solar Program (CSP). 

The Commission defined the agent subscription model as using agency agreements to:
• Administer the subscriber’s electric utility account;
• Subscribe the subscriber to a CSP project, including when the project is not specified; or
• Provide the subscriber a consolidated bill, paid to the agent instead of directly to the utility.

Community solar allows ratepayers to support solar projects by subscribing to a share of a project’s output. Project Managers and Subscription Managers follow rules to solicit and enroll ratepayers as CSP subscribers. Under the Commission’s new order, no one can use agency agreements for the above purposes.

The Commission clarified that the Project Managers and Subscription Managers can still undertake the following activities:
• Determination of the initial size of a participant’s subscription;
• Adjustment of the size of a participant’s subscription;
• Transfer a participant’s subscription from one project to another; and
• Secure access of the participant’s utility consumption data, with the consent of the participant.

The Commission’s order follows a roughly nine-month stakeholder process. It began in January 2022 after Portland General Electric Company (PGE) and the Citizens’ Utility Board (CUB) filed letters protesting a Subscription Manager’s alleged use of consolidated billing in the CSP. Consolidated billing generally means a Subscriber receives one bill instead a bill from their utility and a separate bill from their Project Manager or Subscription Manager. The CSP has a mostly consolidated bill process, with subscription credits and most charges appearing on Subscribers’ utility bills. However, some subscription charges are collected separately from the utility bill. PGE and CUB opposed having a Subscription Manager collect all payments rather than having customers pay the utility directly.

At a workshop in March 2022, two Subscription Managers, Common Energy and Arcadia, presented on the benefits of and use of agency agreements and consolidated billing in community solar programs across the nation. PGE presented on its concerns for the CSP. Following the workshop, Commission Staff requested more information from Arcadia and Common Energy about their business models.

In June and August 2022, Commission Staff issued its recommendations that were opposed to the use of the agent subscription model. Common Energy, PacifiCorp, CUB, Oregon Shines, Arcadia, the Oregon Solar + Storage Industries Association (OSSIA), and PGE filed comments in response to Staff. Generally, the two utilities and CUB expressed support for Staff’s recommendation, while OSSIA and the other entities, who are primarily Subscription Managers, opposed Staff’s proposal for a broad prohibition on agency agreements. Staff acknowledged that certain activities, including the allowed activities listed above, benefit Subscribers and should not be prohibited. Staff also committed to work with the CSP’s Program Administrator on revising the CSP’s template Subscriber agreements to address the allowed activities.

The Commission’s order adopted Staff’s revised recommendation with clarifications but no major revisions.

Sanger Law PC represented Common Energy in this Commission process.

Common Energy is one of the largest community solar providers in the country, operating in nine states and serving approximately 15,000 subscribers. Common Energy has won numerous state awards for its work in community solar, and its personnel are recognized experts in community solar programs. Common Energy’s Board of Directors and advisors include some of the country’s leading experts in energy and energy law. Common Energy is active in the CSP as a Subscription Manager and is also a registered Project Manager.

These materials are intended to as informational and are not to be considered legal advice or legal opinion, nor do they create a lawyer-client relationship. Information included about previous case results does not assure a similar future result.