Will investor-owned utilities help
make community solar projects
DANA HALL, JAMES ROSE and LAUREL VARNADO
VOL. 24, NO. 2
Copyright © 2010 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
Have you ever been tempted by a vacation time-share? It’s cheaper than buying a vacation home, you get the benefit of
relaxation just when you want it, and you don’t
have to worry about maintenance or keeping
up with the bills. Now imagine if your neighbor
came to you with a great deal on a solar energy
“time-share.” Just the right amount of electricity
from solar panels would power your lights and
appliances, but you don’t have to worry about
installing the panels on your own roof or the
upfront capital to pay for it.
Solar developers will tell you this idea would
be quite popular with their customers. Developers frequently turn people away who want to
invest in solar but cannot because of tree shade,
roof condition, building configuration or because
they live in multifamily buildings. Other times,
developers have to walk away from a shade-free,
structurally sound rooftop because the building
doesn’t have enough demand to absorb the generation output and net-metering laws cap the
size of projects to serve the load onsite.
That all may be about to change with the
emergence of community solar ownership.
Communities nationwide are developing novel
approaches that allow customers to share renewable energy systems, providing opportunities for
previously untapped markets. With traditional
net-metering configurations, a small grid-tied
photovoltaic (PV) system (less than 2 megawatts in capacity) is built for a single customer
with a single meter, and the generating customer
receives credit for any excess generation at retail
rates. The utility distributes the excess electrons
to other nearby loads as an ordinary sale of
electricity. Community solar pushes traditional
boundaries by allowing the excess generation to
instead offset the loads of an identified group of
participating customers who invest in the cost
of the system.
Community solar successes to date have been
systems managed by the local municipal utility.
Dana Hall ( email@example.com) is the energy policy
coordinator at the Pace Energy and Climate Center,
where she works on policy projects affecting renewable technologies. Hall is also an attorney admitted in
New York and New Jersey. She serves on the policy
committee of the American Solar Energy Society.
James Rose ( firstname.lastname@example.org) serves as
senior policy analyst for the Network for New Energy
Choices. He primarily works on NNEC projects involving renewable electricity policies. Rose holds a master’s in public administration in environmental science
and policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor’s degree
from Earlham College. He is the co-author and project
manager of NNEC’s annual report on net metering
and interconnection, Freeing the Grid.
Laurel Varnado ( email@example.com) works at the
North Carolina Solar Center, publishing the Interstate
Renewable Energy Council’s monthly Connecting to
the Grid newsletter. Previously, Varnado was a policy
analyst for the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) and a community development agent in Senegal, West Africa.
But some large utilities, state policymakers and
entrepreneurs are developing strategies to enable
broader adoption of community solar.
solartoday.org SOLAR TODAY March 2010 31
Municipal Utilities Take the Lead
Ellensburg’s Solar Community Project. The
story begins in Ellensburg, Wash., where three
solar technologies are installed on city-owned
property along Interstate 90. Fifteen thousand
cars drive by the installation each day. The system first became operational in November 2006
with a 36-kilowatt (k W) installation comprising
120 300-watt polycrystalline solar modules. In
February 2009, Ellensburg added an addition-