How would you support the growth of renewable energy on a community level?
Many environmental science and renewable energy organizations suggest generating renewable energy on-site (at your home) using geothermal heat pumps, biomass-fueled combined heat and power or, the most recommended method, solar energy in the form of rooftop, solar photovoltaic panels. The installation of rooftop solar panels can help reduce the use of fossil fuel and, if a lot of homes add panels, increase energy security. And net metering can reduce the system owner’s electricity bill substantially.
That’s pretty cool. But rooftop solar can, at times, leave some folks in the dark. Some people can’t afford it, others aren’t interested in the long-term investment and many don’t own their rooftops (think renters and condo owners).
Apart from signing up for a renewable energy program with the local utility (Xcel Energy’s is called Windsource®), there are not a lot of choices for these types of residents. Now there’s a way that gives more people a viable, affordable choice to use home-grown renewable energy.
Community Solar: A Game Changer
From Washington to North Carolina, community solar projects–often called gardens–are sprouting up.
Community solar projects are a form of “distributed generation,” as opposed to large central power generation provided by, for example, the coal plants that supply the majority of Colorado’s energy. Community solar is seen as a way to expand the availability of renewable energy while taking advantage of the economies of scale that result from installing thousands of solar panels in a central location rather than spread across individual rooftops.
The Solar*Rewards® Community™ Program in Colorado
Xcel Energy is launching the largest community solar project in Colorado, The Solar*Rewards Community program. The community installations themselves will be developed, built and managed locally–by cities and towns, real estate developers or community cooperatives.
All available capacity was reserved in approximately 30 minutes of the launch. Again, very cool!
Once the insallations are developed, individuals in the community can buy a share of the garden and can see lower electricity bills through “virtual metering.” Again, that’s pretty cool especially for residents who don’t own their rooftop or don’t want to invest in an individual system. But what about those who can’t afford it? The Solar*Rewards Community program requires that a small percentage of the shares go to low-income residents.
Xcel Energy is one of the first utility companies in the country to offer incentives for their installation and use. Incentives will be offered for up to nine megawatts (MW) of power. By comparison, the new Keystone Solar Project in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania–considered one of the largest–is offering incentive for up to six MW. The incentives go to the developers, as the ones taking on the financial risk.
According to Susannah Pedigo, Manager, Renewable Energy Products and Services with Xcel Energy, “Just as wind energy is now more competitive, solar energy is expanding to remove the barriers of entry and allow new types of customers to directly benefit from solar generation.”
Community solar lets communities, developers and utilities meet somewhere in between larger scale energy production and individual participation to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible.
Obviously, communities and developers believe community solar is smart investment. The next step is to see whether residents will support the growth of renewable energy on a community level.