Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Examiner.com: Solar Garden Institute introduces Colorado’s Solar Gardens Act to San Francisco Rental Community

 From the SF Examiner:

   An article about the new Solar Gardens Institute initiative for community solar legislation in California.  Includes quotes from Solar Panel Hosting CEO Joy Hughes and One Block Off the Grid CEO David Llorens.


Solar Garden Institute introduces Colorado’s Solar Gardens Act to San Francisco Rental Community

SAN FRANCISCO— The Solar Garden Institute has introduced the concept of the solar garden to the San Francisco rental community. If California would enact a Solar Gardens Act to complement Jared Huffman’s Feed in Tariff Legislation, renters could subscribe to Solar Panel Hosting and be reimbursed for the cost of the excess clean energy they and tenants supply to an electrical grid [...] 

Tessera Solar Files Final Application for 1,500 Acre Solar Engine Farm. Ours is Bigger!

     Despite massive public opposition, Tessera Solar has filed a final application for a 1,500 acre solar engine farm near Saguache, Colorado.  There are residences directly across the road, and an organic cattle ranch immediately adjacent.

     There will be a public hearing within 30 days, and I will certainly keep this group updated.

     Our company, the Solar Panel Hosting Company, has proposed an alternative - distributed solar energy on the corners of irrigation circles, on old gravel mines, on parking lots and rooftops, in parcels smaller than 320 acres.  Landowners all over Colorado have approached us to be part of this project.  When you total up all the parcels we have received interest from, it adds up to well more than 2,000 acres.

     Since we are committed to using existing distribution lines, we can't cover all of these acres with solar panels, nor should we!  We're going to live by our principles of responsible solar development.  If it were to all be built, we would be talking about 50-60 Megawatts of solar generation, nothing to sneeze at.  And it's only going to get bigger.  Such is the nature of exponential growth.

     Our solar plant is bigger in another important way.  As our sites are located all over Colorado, they will (if built) create jobs throughout the state.  And it will take an awfully big cloud to shade a solar panel the size of Colorado.

     After all, 1,500 acres isn't that big if you're a cloud.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Community Energy Directory

Community Energy Installations & Groups

 Thanks to Solar Gardens Institute researchers for helping to document the mushrooming movement for community based energy around the world!

Stanley Florek - Research Chair, Solar Gardens Institute - CEO, Tangerine Solar

General Resources

Group dedicated to sound policy for community energy at national, state, and local levels.

Solar Gardens Fan Page on Facebook
Folks from around the world, interested in community solar energy.


Off-grid communities in Africa can leapfrog to solar PV.


British Columbia

Worker’s cooperative solar energy company.

The Ontario Power Authority is offering North America’s most generous feed-in tariff.

Countryside Energy Co-Op - Milverton, ON
For solar PV projects, Co-operative Members can buy Preference Shares to enable the Co-op to raise the equity to buy & install the equipment, and to give those Members a dividend based on the number of Shares that they hold after projects are connected to the grid and generate revenue.

Our Power - Toronto, ON
Provides on-line and in-person solar education, information and tools for decision making support.

In development for two years now, SolarShare is a co-operative that will build multiple rooftop solar- electric projects of up to 250kW in size, which it will finance, develop, maintain and operate.
All Ontarians will be able to invest in the SolarShare projects, which are aimed at generating up to 8% return on investments.

WindshareToronto, ON
A for-profit co-op with a mandate to provide renewable electricity to the people of Ontario through community ownership.
Proposed 20 Megawatt community owned wind farm.


Solare CollettivoRacconigi, Italy
40+ individuals finance a 20kW solar energy system.

United States

Interfaith Power and Light - San Francisco, CA
A religious response to global warming, including rooftop solar.
Represents 30 states and over 10,000 congregations.

Interstate Renewable Energy CouncilLatham, NY
National organization since 1982.
Has prepared a template for state laws- the Community Renewable Power Proposal.

For those who can’t go solar on site, provides opportunities to own solar panels elsewhere in their communities.


Municipal utility-owned program that lets users buy blocks of solar energy.

Arizona Public Service project approved April 2010. Customers on the same feeder line can own or lease solar panels. See also: http://www.azruco.gov/pc_aps_flagstaff_pilot.htm

Soaring HeightsDavis – Monthan AFB, AZ
6,000 kilowatts of community solar on a military base, developed by SolarCity.

Solar Commons - Phoenix, AZ
Advocates for the common law principle of right-of-way applied to electric power. A 10 kilowatt demonstration project, owned in trust, has been proposed. The array will produce revenue for energy efficiency in low income households.


Clean Power Cooperative - Nevada County, CA
Grassroots cooperative advocating for those without solar potential on site to participate in state and local solar initiatives. The group plans to organize local power in Nevada County.

Solar installation company owned by buyer’s co-op.

Go Solar Co-op - Wilton, CA
Employee owned solar installer.

SMUD Solar Shares - Sacramento, CA
1,000 kilowatt project developed by municipal utility. Subscribers pay a
flat monthly fee to rent a share.

A solar power system installed through California Solar Initiative’s Multi-family Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program. Residents at each property will receive 50 percent of the energy produced by the solar system free of charge.
Real Goods Solar hired residents to install the solar panels. MASH program details http://www.gosolarcalifornia.org/csi/low_income.html


Solar Gardens Colorado on Facebook:

Colorado Harvesting Energy NetworkGreenwood Village, CO
Facilitates the development of community-based renewable energy projects that advance Colorado's New Energy Economy.

Westminster seed gardenWestminster, CO
10kW existing array to use as a “test bed” for solar gardens models. Headquarters of the Solar Gardens Institute. Managed by The Solar Panel Hosting Company

Founders Garden Jefferson County, CO
70-acre site with proposed 2,000 kW solar garden and wholesale distributed generation. Uses the “Open Garden” model, allowing multiple solar companies to participate. Managed by The Solar Panel Hosting Company

Clean Energy Collective - Carbondale, CO
80 Kilowatt for-profit community project on Holy Cross Rural Electric. Subscribers join a limited liability corporation and gain ownership of equipment. A 900 kilowatt follow on project is planned.

Carbon Zero - Durango, CO
Proposed 1,000 kilowatt “virtual power plant” on 300+ rooftops.

Nonprofit grassroots group has proposed a 17 acre solar, wind, and small hydroelectric project owned by members.

Town and nonprofits working together for energy efficiency.

For those who can’t go solar on site, provides opportunities to own solar panels elsewhere in their communities.

Utility owned 10 kilowatt project opened in May 2009. Customers receive a 25-year lease on a specific solar panel, gaining approximately 3% return.

District of Columbia

Community solar group. The idea is that members will merely have to sign up—and they will get solar power installed on their roof.

Georgetown EnergyWashington, DC
Cooperative solar buyer’s group.


In return for leasing one or more panels for $999 each, members receive monthly bill credits for the full retail value of the electricity generated by their leased panel(s) for 25 years.


Weatherford Place Roswell, GA
Eight LEED Platinum certified homes. Southern Company engineered and installed a hybrid metering system for the neighborhood. With this system, the homes will be billed for electricity at the regular residential rate, but will have a second meter to register the production of electricity from their solar roof systems. Georgia Power will "buy back" electricity produced by the solar panels.


University Park Solar - University Park, MD
21.9 kilowatt system installed on a church- dedication June 12, 2010. Members join a Limited Liability Corporation and receive a return on investment.

Common Cents Solar Bethesda, MD
Non-profit solar installer.


Members join for-profit LLC and receive proportional returns from a community solar system under Massachusetts’s Green Communities Act

Members join for-profit LLC and receive proportional returns from a community solar system under Massachusetts’s Green Communities Act

For-profit company specializing in Community Solar Gardens™ under the Mass. Green Communities Act.

Co-Op Power – Greenfield, MA
Buyer’s co-op of efficiency and renewable solutions. Uses a “neighbor-to-neighbor” method to spread solar hot water solutions.

New Jersey

Mars Solar Garden Hackettstown, NJ
Did you know 20% of M&M's® are now produced using solar power? (Maybe the yellow ones...) It's worth going to the link just to see the spokescandies in front of a 2,000 kilowatt solar array.

New Mexico

Community solar projects will be built to provide power for specific numbers of homes within a neighborhood and subsidized by KCEC. The residents will own a portion of these arrays. the cost of a one-panel share might be $571, so the buyer would pay 2-3 cents more per kilowatt for renewable energy, but also receive a one-time tax credit of about $230.

KTAO Solar RadioTaos, NM
Radio transmitter powered by a solar array – also sports a solar carport at its offices.

Roswell Community SolarRoswell, NM
Part of XCEL Energy’s “Community Solar” program, based at Eastern New Mexico University.

New York

Community group dedicated to a feed-in tariff and “green renters”.

North Carolina

Group has installed a 2.4 kilowatt community system.


Solar Gardens Pacific Northwest on Facebook

Ashland Solar Pioneer II - Ashland, OR
63.5 kilowatt community owned system. Customers purchase the output of the panels for 20 years.

Corvallis High School- Corvallis, OR
2.3 kilowatt system (100 kilowatts planned over 10 years.) Several more sites planned around Corvallis. Developed by Tangerine Solar.

Solarize PortlandPortland, OR
Community group taking hundreds of homes solar in Portland, Oregon.
Bonneville Environmental Foundation Portland, OR
Helped fund the first community solar project in Ellensburg, WA. Among other projects, has created 158 solar PV projects on schools.


SunSmartSt. George, UT
Community solar array completed January 2009. Participation will be sold in whole and half units of 1 kilowatt installed solar PV capacity. Purchasers of SunSmart will own the unit for a minimum of 19 years, when the panels will be evaluated to determine if they need to be replaced or repaired. The purchaser will have the choice to pay the cost, if there is one, and continue owning the unit or they can decline and the unit will be available for others to purchase.


Conceived in 2003, with Phase I built in 2006, this project was the first of its kind. With the third phase in place the project will total 81 kilowatts. Members participate in financing and receive bill credit at wholesale rates. (See also http://www.ci.ellensburg.wa.us/index.aspx?NID=310 )

Solar for SakaiBainbridge Island, WA
5 kilowatt array on intermediate school, funded by community donations.

Community Energy SolutionsBainbridge Island, WA
Advocates for and sponsors community energy projects, provides
information for community groups, and advocates for legislation.

Cascade Community Wind Bellingham, WA
Members purchase a share of power produced by wind turbines for a 20-year period.

For-benefit company specializing in community solar. Offers shares in solar arrays called SunSlices™.


Lots of great resources, spreadsheets, and case studies on community solar development.

List Compiled by:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mile Hi Green Interview with Claire Levy and Joy Hughes

 Mile Hi Green - Thoughts on Community Solar Gardens Bill Passage

   MileHiGreen.com caught up with two strong community solar proponents, working to bring photovoltaic utility rebates and bill reductions to everyone. Colorado State Representative Claire Levy (D-Boulder) introduced House Bill 1342 this year allowing renters and condo owners access to benefits previously available only to homeowners. The bill passed April 28, 2010. Joy Hughes living in the San Luis Valley started Solar Panel Hosting Company to offer a distributed alternative to massive utility-scale photovoltaic projects.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Solar Gardens Build Community Wealth - Transmission Lines Cost Jobs

San Luis Valley Transmission Line Could Cost Colorado 25,000 Jobs over 10 Years
By Joy Hughes, Solar Gardens Institute

     One of the arguments given for expanding transmission lines and industrial solar in the San Luis Valley is the creation of jobs.  We’ve proposed a distributed energy alternative -- rooftop solar and solar gardens, and solar self-sufficiency in the San Luis Valley.  In March 2010, the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (COSEIA) released a study showing that 1,000 Megawatts of distributed solar energy would create over 33,000 person-years of employment over ten years.  Says COSEIA:

     DG solar supports local business growth and allows every Coloradan to directly contribute to the New Energy Economy by producing their own clean electricity.  DG solar  also helps utilities reduce costs of purchasing expensive peak power electricity and updating grid infrastructure--  all cost savings that ultimately benefit ratepayers.

COSEIA Study: http://www.coseia.org/newsite/assets/files/Resources/Colorado_1000-megawatt-solar-benefits-report3.pdf

     By comparison, an inside source tells me that the 8.2 Megawatt SunEdison plant in Mosca was completed by 70 people in 6 months, and only takes one person to maintain.  This comes out to 45 person-years over 10 years, or about 5,500 jobs per 1,000 Megawatts. 

      This back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that by drawing resources away from rooftop solar, the massive industrial solar development spurred by building the SoCo transmission line over La Veta Pass would actually cost Colorado over 25,000 renewable energy jobs!  The San Luis Valley can build 200 megawatts of distributed solar for self-sufficiency and export, and still come out ahead in terms of jobs.

Solar Gardens Keep Money in the Local Economy

     I had a chance to visit the first community solar facility in America – the Ellensburg Solar Community in Washington State.  Each person who owns a share gets a credit on their electric bill.  Imagine that – a power company that pays you, rather than the other way around!

     That’s the great thing about solar gardens – subscribers have to be local.  So money that would otherwise leave the valley in electric costs will stay, cycle around, and have a multiplier effect.  We call this community wealth.

The Best Place for Solar in Colorado?  XCEL’s Own Study Says – Pueblo!

     The San Luis Valley gets more total sun hours than elsewhere in Colorado… but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  The time of day the sunshine arrives is important as well, using a measure called Effective Load Carrying Capacity, or ELCC.  When this is factored in, Pueblo wins!  To use XCEL’s own words:

     An examination of hourly weather conditions in both 2004 and 2005 indicate a significantly higher correlation of peak system load hours with clear skies in Pueblo than with clear skies in Alamosa.  That is, the chances of afternoon, monsoon conditions in Alamosa during Public Service peak load conditions appear to be greater than such conditions occurring in Pueblo. Thus, even though the annual energy capacity factor from a solar facility located in Alamosa is higher than the same plant located in Pueblo; generation from the Pueblo plant is better correlated to Public Service's peak loads.


XCEL Study Favors “Geographic Diversity” – Spread the Solar Around!

     XCEL told Colorado they couldn’t purchase enough solar energy because a lawsuit has blocked a transmission line into the San Luis Valley.  Yet their own study points out what we’ve been saying all along – it helps to share with your neighbors.

    Geographic diversity of solar plants appears to reduce the cost of integrating solar generation  on the Public Service system.  This conclusion should be viewed as preliminary since this  study examined only a limited set of scenarios.  However, this finding is consistent with results from prior wind integration studies: greater spatial diversity of generation leads to reduced variability in total production, which reduces integration costs. 
     Accurately quantifying the effect of geographic diversity on solar integration costs will be  difficult and was not a major area of focus in this study.  The Company does believe however that the reduction in integration cost with increased diversity makes intuitive sense and thus the general findings of this study in this regard are valid. 

Dispatchability, Base Load, and Concentrated Solar Power

     Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), uses mirrors to focus light on a collector and create heat.  This heat can be stored and used on demand (dispatchability) and if stored for long enough could even replace coal plants (base load).  The largest systems planned would cover thousands of acres, though no plant has ever been built on this scale, anywhere in the world. 

     Even with the storage afforded by CSP, geographic diversity is still important.  In the San Luis Valley, winter fog can hang around for days on end while the front range is sunny, longer than such plants can store power

     The need for the energy storage afforded by CSP is put forward as a reason for building transmission lines into the San Luis Valley.  Yet if we had good energy storage in the valley, it would reduce rather than increase the need for new transmission to supply our farmers, who could then irrigate at night using solar power.

     Huge engineering hurdles remain – dealing with caustic materials at very high temperatures, coming up with the ideal heat transport medium, and scaling up to a much larger size.  Any technology in its adolescence is likely to have growing pains.  As with the Comanche coal plant, there is a risk of technical problems that could increase costs and cause delays.  By contrast, the PV solar panel is a proven, mature, and very reliable technology that is rapidly dropping in cost through economies of scale, and is favored by low temperatures in the San Luis Valley.

     CSP on a grand scale would have enormous impacts.  Huge fields of mirrors, power towers lit like a piece of the sun, and cooling towers similar to nuclear plants would certainly have a visual impact. Mirages can magnify the glow.  They would be noisy and take up land, water, and wildlife habitat.  Not something for an area or world-class scenic beauty!

      If we are serious about replacing coal with CSP, and we are going to be replacing those coal plants with gas anyway, then the best thing to do is to locate CSP or hybrid CSP-natural gas plants at the sites of the old coal plants.  These sites are already impacted, and have transmission and water rights already in place.

Energy Storage - Smarter than the Grid

      Which would be more valuable to a power user?  Generation and storage far away, or on site, for backup power?  The cost of solar panels and batteries are dropping. The cost of grid electricity is rising.  It will start to make more sense to not even bother with the grid, just as today it makes less and less sense to keep a land telephone line.

     Last year a company called Ceramatec (owned by Coors) announced a breakthrough in battery technology, and was listed as one of the top ten new technologies by Popular Mechanics.  This uses an established technology – the Sodium/Sulfur battery – but at a much lower operating temperature, making it much more cost effective.  If this or one of several other technologies being pursued pans out, it could store solar energy for each home without the need for power lines, power plants, or power companies.

     Energy Storage is becoming a hot topic!

     Smart Grid News - Pay attention to energy storage:


     Renewable Energy World - Community Based Energy Storage (We call it "battery gardens")


Sunday, June 13, 2010

A New Way to Finance Solar Gardens

PACE bonds finance renewable energy for homeowners

Tired of high utility bills? Want clean energy? Don't want to take out an equity loan, if you could even get one?

With Gov. Bill Ritter's signature, SB 100, the Property Assessed Clean Energy financing bill became law June 11.

Joy Hughes, founder of The Solar Gardens Institute, www.solargadens.org, sees the bill as as way more people can access clean energy.

Solar Gardens work through a subscription service supported by the community of users. The group owns the solar panels and each member gets the benefits, from utility rebates to the use of the electricity.
“State Sen. Gail Schwartz championed this expansion of Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs, such as Boulder's ClimateSmart,” Hughes said. “A solar garden subscription can be purchased using home value. The home owner makes the purchase through their property tax bill and receives credits on their electric bill.”
In this case, the subscription stays with the home rather than moving with the subscriber.

PACE bonds create a method for municipalities and counties to basically “loan” money for energy improvements like solar, wind, biomass or other small-scale generation projects.
Homeowners pay back the loan as payments with property taxes.
PACE is not a tax increase, just a financing mechanism used in many states.  The debt to the city stays with the home since the solar panels will.  If you move, the new owner takes on the payments.
Boulder County already has a PACE program in place called "ClimateSmart".

State Sen. Gail Schwartz spoke of the challenges the Assembly and the governor's office faced in creating the New Energy Economy.
“So many great minds came together to find a compromise and opportunity. We (in Colorado) will be known for renewable energy.”

PACE encourages local generation of renewable power, decreasing the need for transmission lines.
“It's great to see easy financing for solar garden subscriptions through the PACE program,” Hughes said. “This will help many home and condominium owners clear one of the biggest hurdles to going solar.”

SB100 was one of 57 laws made during Ritter's term furthering renewable and clean energy and creating jobs related to the renewable energy industry.
In four years, more than 300 solar companies have formed or expanded into Colorado.

For more information about The Solar Gardens Institute, contact Hughes at 719-207-3097 or joy@solargardens.org.

About Solar Gardens.org:
The Solar Gardens Institute organizes communities to go solar by pooling their resources. Libraries and schools, churches and synagogues, businesses and citizens groups can benefit by hosting a distributed power plant where anyone can own solar panels. SolarGardens.org advocates for community-based distributed energy at federal, state, and local levels. Solar Gardens are self-organizing everywhere, beginning to transform America through solar power and people power.

Media contacts: Greg Ching, greg@solargardens.org or Robyn Lydick, robyn@solargardens.org.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Accidental Solution to XCEL’s Solar Woes - Contact Governor Ritter

Support distributed, renewable energy!

Contact Governor Ritter at:
(303) 866-2471
136 State Capitol, Denver, CO 80203

Include "SoCo transmission line" in the subject.

The Accidental Solution to XCEL’s Solar Woes 
A Colorado Startup Company Discovers Solar Farm Sites on Colorado’s Front Range

     The Solar Panel Hosting Company, a Colorado start-up, has stumbled upon excellent solar farm sites in Jefferson County and elsewhere along the front range.  Wholesale distributed solar development on these sites could meet XCEL Energy’s solar purchase requirements without requiring new transmission lines into the San Luis Valley. 

     XCEL energy recently announced that it would reduce its purchase of solar energy in Colorado if transmission line construction were delayed.  Governor Ritter said he would try to negotiate with Trinchera Ranch to allow a transmission line to be built over La Veta Pass.

     While looking for sites for projects under Colorado’s new Community Solar Gardens Act, we were approached by land owners with parcels from around 70 acres up to 320 acres who had been spurned by solar developers intent on very large sites in the San Luis Valley.  The best of these sites is an old mine adjacent to a sub-station, zoned industrial, near existing transmission lines, and screened from view by a berm.  The land owner is committed to developing his entire property for solar energy.

     These sites could become wholesale distributed photovoltaic (PV) solar plants similar to the Solar One plant currently operating near the San Luis Valley town of Mosca.  Solar One, covering approximately 100 acres, produces just over 8 Megawatts of power, the equivalent of 2500 typical home solar energy systems.  This plant has generated almost no opposition, being fairly low to the ground, quiet, using very little water, and not requiring large mirrors.  By contrast, the scenic San Luis Valley is facing proposals for concentrated solar thermal plants covering thousands of acres, involving mirrors and perhaps towers, noisy turbines or Stirling engines, and often requiring significant amounts of water.

     Long transmission lines mean transmission losses.  While good numbers are hard to come by, a former Governor’s Energy Office member (and transmission line supporter) suggested to me that transmission line losses between the San Luis Valley and the Front Range would be about 8-12%, with losses the greatest on hot days when demand is highest.  On average, Alamosa receives about 15% more solar energy than Denver.  This means the majority of the additional energy would be lost, turned into useless heat.  The ratepayers pay for the transmission line and a markup to guarantee power company profits.  Energy lost in transmission would still be counted as “renewable energy” under Colorado’s renewable portfolio standard.

     The state’s current plan, the Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI) would involve putting nearly all of Colorado’s solar generation in the San Luis Valley.  Opposition is strong- not just a billionaire or a few hippies, but ranchers, townspeople, and business owners as well.  In our local Democratic caucus, we voted unanimously to consider the distributed alternatives before building new transmission lines.

     Under Colorado’s new Renewable Portfolio Standard, by 2020 a minimum of 1.5% of our energy must come from wholesale distributed renewables, defined as less than 30 Megawatts.  Remember, this is a minimum, not a maximum.  In a conversation we had last March, our state Senator Gail Schwartz mentioned the idea of using 100 Solar One-sized plants to generate a Gigawatt of electricity.  I suggested we spread these facilities all around sunny Colorado.

     In California, PG&E recently announced a plan to build 500 Megawatts of distributed solar energy based around existing sub-stations.  Another company has proposed five 10-Megawatt PV plants in New Mexico.  Which company is this?  XCEL energy!

     If we tweak the plan and require XCEL to buy solar energy from wholesale distributed solar plants all around Colorado, we will spread around both the benefits and the impacts.  I can’t imagine a county commissioner or state legislator that wouldn’t want the improvement in their tax and jobs base, while at the same time reclaiming damaged land.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kit Carson Electric to Build Community Solar Project

Kit Carson Electric to Build First Community Solar Project In The Southwest

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC) announces that the Board of Directors has approved building the first community solar project in Taos...

(there are projects underway in  Roswell, Flagstaff, Tucson, and Phoenix)

One of the best things we can do is to help these community solar projects know about each other!  I am feverishly working on a directory of projects nationwide, that will surely be obsolete as soon as I post it!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Welcome to Solar Gardens Blog

     This is the place to post news and information regarding community solar anywhere in the world.  A specially selected team of experts has been assembled to help solar gardens sprout up everywhere!

     We talk about Community Solar Gardens(TM), our companies and projects, legislation and policy issues.

     It's not a place for general "renewable energy news", let's try to stay on topic!

many thanks,