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First Individually Owned Community Solar Project Opens In Oakland

Oakland’s People Power Solar Cooperative has completed its first solar project in Oakland, piloting a new model for community-owned energy in California. The residential-sized 7 kilowatt project is financed entirely by investments up to $1,000 each from more than 50 local community members and leaders among the cooperative’s members, the group says.

Oakland’s People Power Solar Cooperative has completed its first solar project in Oakland, piloting a new model for community-owned energy in California. The residential-sized 7 kilowatt project is financed entirely by investments up to $1,000 each from more than 50 local community members and leaders among the cooperative’s members, the group says.

Members of People Power celebrate their community solar project. Credit People Power

The project is the first residential energy project in California to be owned by members of the broader community, and not municipally-owned, as far as the cooperative knows. It will sell power to homeowners and tenants at a rate lower than Pacific Gas & Electric, the local utility. The cooperative will, in turn, pay small dividends to the owners who helped finance the project, with loose terms of issuance.

“This project is more than putting solar on a roof. With more than 50 members of the community behind this project as owners, we are starting to show that solar ownership is about more than clean power. It’s about community power,” said Crystal Huang, co-founder of People Power Solar Cooperative. 

People Power Solar Cooperative grew out of a multi-year effort by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, also based in Oakland, to develop a model for community energy that empowers communities to steward their own energy future, the group says. 

“Currently, more than half of Californians cannot own solar because they either don’t own their home or don’t have the capital or credit. That sidelines a bunch of communities, disproportionately low income communities and communities of color, from the financial and environmental benefits of owning solar,” says People Power co-founder Grayson Flood. 

People Power aims to act as an administrative umbrella for other groups seeking to create community-owned solar projects in California. It also provides a model for community solar for other states without strong shared-solar laws, it says. 

People Power Solar Cooperative has engaging cartoon bylaws in plain-language to make its model welcoming and understandable, even to high school-age youth.

In May, 2018 PG&E announced it has signed on the first community solar project for its Regional Renewable Choice program with the renewable energy developer ForeFront Power. The utility-owned program allows all customers, including renters and those who can’t install solar, the option of purchasing up to 100% solar energy without having to install private rooftop solar panels.

Based in Fresno County, the 1.66 megawatt solar project will be built by the renewable energy developer ForeFront Power. Participating customers will sign a contract directly with ForeFront Power to subscribe to a portion of the energy produced by the solar project. Customers will receive a program credit from PG&E on their monthly energy statement based on the kilowatt-hour output of their subscription with the developer.

Approximately half of US households and businesses are unable to install rooftop solar due to space, lack of sun exposure, or ownership limitations, the utility points out. The Regional Renewable Choice program gives residential and business customers – including those who rent – an easy way to participate in solar without installing or maintaining solar panels, PG&E says.

“The Regional Renewable Choice program is part of our ongoing commitment to support the growth of solar and other renewable energy sources in California. This program enables our customers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from their electricity usage and allows them to directly be a part of California’s clean energy future,” said Vincent Davis, PG&E’s senior director of Customer Energy Solutions at the May announcement.

Both residential and business customers in Fresno County expressed interest in the project. This new community solar project is expected to be completed and delivering energy to customers in mid-2019, PG&E said.

PG&E’s Regional Renewable Choice program expands clean energy access by enabling customers to work directly with developers of new renewable projects. Through the program, customers may contract with developers and subscribe to a portion of the power produced from a newly developed renewable project based in PG&E’s service area. Customers can subscribe to between 25 and 100% of their energy use, the utility advises.

Through the program, PG&E will work with local renewable energy developers across Northern and Central California which will build small- and mid-sized renewable projects ranging from 0.5 to 20 megawatts. The energy for these new projects must be from renewable resources including but not limited to solar, wind or biomass, the utility explains.

The Regional Renewable Choice program is Green-e Energy Certified. Green-e Energy is the nation’s leading independent consumer protection program for renewable energy, and sets environmental and consumer-protection standards established by the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions.

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Written By

Charles specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. Among key areas of focus are bifacial panels and solar tracking. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.


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