The shared solar revolution

Why are communities across the nation are embracing shared solar?

The Solar Energy Industries Association’s report showed that residential solar power installations are on the rise. Yet not everyone who supports renewable energy is in a position to join the groundswell of rooftop installations. The Times article points out that 85% of Americans can’t add solar panels to their residences for a variety of reasons. Shared solar is the smart alternative.

So, who benefits from shared solar?

  • Community solar gardenowners of shaded property
  • homeowners whose roofs are not structurally sound for rooftop installations
  • renters
  • business owners
  • students
  • community members who aren’t sure they will remain in their homes for 25+ years (the lifetime of solar panels)

Colorado pioneered community-owned solar legislation, and ever since, an increasing number of states are joining them in welcoming shared energy projects. And it’s not just the sunniest states that are on board. Today, states such as Minnesota, Michigan, and Massachusetts (perhaps not known for their sunny climes) are joining the shared solar revolution.

Through net metering, participants in the solar project save money on their energy bills and support local energy production.  Most community-owned solar gardens embody one of these three forms:

  1. The 3rd Party model: A 3rd party (such as an installer or utility company) owns or operates a project that is open to voluntary participation

  2. The Special Purpose Entity model: Individual investors join an enterprise (such as a co-op or LLC)

  3. Nonprofit “Buy a Brick” model: In this approach, donors contribute to a community installation owned by a charitable nonprofit corporation.

The time is right.

As the Times notes, “The combination of plummeting prices for solar equipment and installation and generous federal and state incentives has widened their appeal. The Energy Department is encouraging their spread, publishing a guide to best practices in 2010, and is weighing proposals to award $15 million in grants to help design community projects.”

Shared solar also offers communities a variety of benefits beyond saving money and supporting green technology. For instance, solar farms present an ideal educational opportunity for local students, whether the student is in grade school or college. We often refer to community-owned solar installations as “farms,” and sometimes, it’s literal– some shared solar farms incorporate agriculture, producing local food and local energy at once. Because panels are clean and quiet, a shared solar farm can become a hub for environmental, educational, and community-wide events.

Community Renewable Energy is committed to helping community groups and co-ops explore their shared solar options. Contact us to learn more. 

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