Why Community Solar Matters: Colorado’s Program Allots Nine Megawatts In 30 Minutes

by John Farrell, via Energy Self Reliant States

When 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.)

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This post was originally published at the Energy Self-Reliant States blog and was reprinted with permission.

10 Responses to Why Community Solar Matters: Colorado’s Program Allots Nine Megawatts In 30 Minutes

  1. Clifton Bowers says:

    Its ashame to think of romney’s energy plan then we’er totally dependent and handicaped.

  2. Leif says:

    Profits to the consumer that uses green power, not the Fossil Barons that refuse to mitigate their mess or even admit that they have a hand in the apocalypse unfolding.

  3. Omega Centauri says:

    Community solar wit netmetering is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it allows customers who want solar but don’t have a good place to put it a chance to get into the game. On the other hand, at least in cases where the panels are located away from the customers location, it is such an obvious subsidy (the customers get transmission and distribution for free) that it is likely to generate an anti-solar backlash.

  4. Leif says:

    You are not looking at the whole situation IMO. That solar is produced at the time of maximum value to the power company and not completely used by the providers. That means that the remainder is sold at maximum value to the green power supporters. In my state “We the People” voluntarily pay a $0.02 premium for green power. (By rights, the ecocide fossil industry should be paying that premium!) I sell my overs for $0.095/ kWh and then in essence buy it back at another time for $0.115/kWh. A 20% mark up! Which is more, I am sure, than it makes on coal power. The community gets less pollution. Zero “line lose” adds another 10%. That value stays in the community, not syphoned off to a Swiss bank account or the ER.

  5. Spike says:

    I have a share in several community wind farms in the UK which work on a similar basis.

  6. Richard says:

    We have been using solar farm in our community. The idea behind it is to reduce the our dependency on local grid and become self sufficient. The extra electricity that is produced is sent back to the grid which in turn helps to lower down the electricity bills.

  7. Omega Centauri says:

    I don’t think those are the ground rules we will be able to fight this debate over. The fossil fuel interests and their many camp followers, are going to seize on resentment of anyone who can be cast as receiving a free ride. A solar user with a net zero bill, is still utilizing the capital equipment on the grid (roughly half the cost of retail power). Admittedly his/her decision to go solar didn’t result in more capital being spent, but it does mean he/she isn’t paying for the capital cost of the grid.

    I think Austin Energies approach of calculating a solar tariff based upon the average value of returned PV (for all PV customers lumped together), will work better. Solar customers are doing better than a net zero scheme, and yet complaints about free riders have vanished.

  8. Anne van der Bom says:

    “only about 25% of Americans have a place to install solar power. ”

    I believe I have seen this statement before, and it actually was that only 25% of roof area is suitable for solar. That is something very different.

    I’d venture a guess that more than 60% of Americans have a house suitable for solar.

    Don’t be so negative on renewable energy, climateprogress!

  9. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Just as Wind Farm Co-operatives are popular in Denmark and some European countries,Community solar will be popular also in Us and other countries.
    Dr.A.jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  10. SecularAnimist says:

    Omega Centauri wrote: “A solar user with a net zero bill, is still utilizing the capital equipment on the grid (roughly half the cost of retail power).”

    I don’t know about where you live, but where I live in Maryland, since the electric power industry was deregulated some years ago, the grid operator (PEPCO in my case) is separate from the electricity supplier (which in my case is CleanCurrents, which sources wind power from Highland North Wind Farm in Pennsylvania).

    PEPCO handles billing for both, but I am actually paying two separate bills — one for the electricity I consume, and another for grid services.

    If (when) I install solar panels and get net-metering, any surplus power that I feed into the grid will offset my electricity consumption bill, but not my grid services bill. (And note, that the net-metering credit for any surplus is less per KWh than the retail price I pay for grid power.)

    So I will still be paying at least as much as any other consumer for “utilizing the capital equipment on the grid”.