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Community Solar Matters, and Why

 
community solar flowerWhen you subtract out shady roofs, renters, and other factors, only about 25% of Americans have a place to install solar power.  With the high upfront cost of a complete system, the potential solar universe shrinks further.

That changes with “community solar.”

After a long wait on the state’s Public Utilities Commission to finalize the rules, Colorado’s “community solar gardens” program (my summary here) sold out in 30 minutes when it opened yesterday, testament to the pent-up demand for solar among who don’t own a sunny roof.  The program allows individuals to subscribe or buy shares in a local solar project, and in return receive a share of the electricity output.

The community solar garden policy offers several significant benefits:

  • Individuals can go solar without a sunny roof or without owning one at all.
  • Individuals can buy as little as a 1 kW share or as much as produces 120% of their own consumption.
  • The solar garden projects capture economies of scale by building more panels at a single, central location and capture the advantages of decentralization by interconnecting to the distribution (low voltage) part of the electricity grid close to demand.
  • Solar gardens cultivate a sense of ownership and geographic connection, requiring subscribers to live in the same county as their shared solar array.  This can reduce political opposition to solar projects and increase local economic benefits.

Fortunately, Colorado isn’t the only state considering this policy.  California’s legislature is currently debating SB 843 to allow “community shared solar” and other renewable energy.  Several other states offer a blanket policy called “virtual net metering” that lets customers share the output from a single renewable energy facility, although sometimes it’s limited to certain types of customers (municipalities, residential, etc.)

This post was originally published at the Energy Self-Reliant States blog and was reprinted with permission.

 
 
 
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Written By

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

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