Community solar is really taking off. The nation’s largest privately developed and subscribed Community Solar Garden, implemented by Colorado energy company SunShare in Colorado Springs, has just sold out its 10,000+ panel installation, which could power over 500 average Colorado homes. Construction begins this fall, and SunShare is already compiling a waitlist for the next one.Over three-quarters of American homeowners, businesses, and government organizations can’t install solar panels on their rooftops because of physical restrictions like trees and shading from other buildings and residential rules. Although federal efforts (notably Sen. Mark Udall’s proposed SUN Act of 2011) have failed to bear fruit, recent state laws like Colorado’s 2010 Community Solar Gardens Act have enabled rapid growth in this cost-effective and low-impact power generation method. Diane Cardwell of The New York Times reported just two weeks ago that at least 52 projects are under development in at least 17 states, and that 20% of state governments have already started encouraging such new development.
Community solar allows any residents to opt for solar rather than fossil or nuclear energy, regardless of their home’s individual status, by joining a local pool. Community-capitalized plants produce clean locally generated solar energy linked to existing grids, with output credit and tax benefits to individual and other investors.
SunShare is one of the nation’s first community solar companies. It aims to make solar energy simple, affordable, and accessible to all—including low-income homeowners and renters. As well as over 400 individuals and businesses, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is a big SunShare customer. The company has over 13 MW under development on vacant lands across Colorado’s Front Range and plans to expand to several other states later this year.
In the Pike’s Peak area, it works with Colorado Springs Utilities, a citizen-owned nonprofit that provides electric, natural gas, water, and wastewater services in the Pikes Peak region. Colorado Springs Utilities awarded its Community Solar contract to SunShare under a public bidding process in November 2013. These utilities intend to supply 20% of the community’s power needs from renewables, help customers reduce electric use by 10%, and maintain a 20% regional electric rate advantage by 2020.