Community Solar Power
Throughout the United States, people are looking for alternative energy sources for a number of different reasons. These reasons include, but are not limited to; saving money, achieving energy independence, protection from rising energy costs, safeguarding the environment, and increasing local economies through job growth. The one alternate renewable energy source that fulfills all these needs is solar energy. Solar technology, combined with state and federal rebates and incentives as well as innovative financing options have continued to make solar power progressively more financially practical.
Home photovoltaic solar power has become increasingly viable solution for many homeowners in the United States, but it has its limits. For homes that don’t have the right orientation to the sun (south facing), have too small of a roof area, a roof that cannot support a solar array (mobile homes), home renters, condominiums, and/or restrictive community covenants, to name a few, home solar power may not be an option. In all of these cases Community Solar becomes a very workable solution making solar power and all its advantages available to many more people.
What is Community Solar Power?
A Community Solar Power Project is an arrangement that allows for a number of end energy users to share the power and/or financial benefits of one solar energy power plant. Multiple members of a community pool their investments to establish a solar power plant either by ownership or subscription. The benefits of the power produced by the community solar facility are then shared between the members of the community solar program.
Types of Community Solar Power Projects
Utility-Sponsored Model – in which a utility owns or operates a project that is open to voluntary ratepayer participation.
Special Purpose Entity (SPE) Model – in which individual investors join in a business enterprise to develop a community solar project.
Non-Profit “Buy a Brick” Model – in which donors contribute to a community installation owned by a charitable non-profit corporation.
How Does Community Solar Work?
The most popular and easiest accessible model for the residential consumer is the Utility Sponsored Model. A good example of this model was recently launched in Vancouver WA. Clark Public Utilities offered shares of a community photovoltaic solar project that was installed on unused property at their maintenance facility. Ratepayers were offered shares at $100 per share. Not only did they sell out all shares within a couple of hours they expanded the project to 5 times their original plans and sold all of those shares in a very short time as well. The ratepayers that opt-ed in to the program can expect a full pay off of their investment in 4 to 5 years with continued savings over the life of the panels which is expected to be in excess of 20 years. The energy produced the system is fed directly into the grid and shareholders receive energy credits, based on their investment, worth the retail energy rate that are then applied directly to their energy bill. This program saves the participating consumers hundreds of dollars per year.