As you may be well aware, solar has become a very hot topic. It may be surprising to learn however that only about 15-20% of electric customers are actually able to access solar energy on their own. Various factors such as physical characteristics of a home or business, consumers who lack ownership of the property, the cost of installing solar on an individual basis, and legal restrictions can deter many interested parties from benefiting from this renewable resource. Due to these limitations, community solar gardens have been growing in popularity.
Community solar gardens are large-scale solar electric arrays constructed on a host site – a building or property in an area that is not necessarily owned by the individuals that have an investment in the array. Multiple subscribers purchase a portion of the array, or a specified number of panels, and in turn receive a credit on their electric bill based on the power generated. With the solar array located outside of the subscriber’s home or business, it provides a means for people who may have issues with their location such as shading, structure issues, and those who rent or live in multi-unit buildings. In addition, with multiple people purchasing a small portion of a large array, it helps drive down the cost of solar energy. Furthermore, advocates of community solar gardens say in comparison to other common green energy buying strategies employed by utilities or suppliers, buying into the solar garden allows you to actually have part ownership in the commodity.
Each program may be tailored to accommodate the utility and its customer’s interests and needs. Unfortunately there is currently little standardization across the industry with how community solar gardens function. Systems size limits, the maximum amount of energy each subscriber can generate from the garden and the number of subscribers allowed are among some of the items that can vary with regulations from state to state. Some states such as Massachusetts have already passed laws enabling community renewable energy projects, while in others states, proposals are still in the works. Brewster Community Solar Garden® Cooperative, Lake Region Community Solar, and Wright-Hennepin (WH) Solar Community are some of the current community solar gardens functioning at this time.
It’s exciting to think that the growth of solar through these community initiatives would give the opportunity for solar ownership to a broader scope of individuals. If you’re looking to increase your energy independence and reduce your carbon footprint, you may want to take a community solar garden into consideration.