Thursday, April 28, 2011

Solar Gardens are Sprouting Up Everywhere!

Community solar farms, or solar gardens, allow those with shaded roofs, renters, and others to own their own solar panels close to home:

Colorado Solar Garden Host Sites

The Solar Gardens Institute is becoming a central clearing house for solar garden hosts, subscribers, developers, and financiers.  Interest has been growing rapidly in Colorado since before the passage  of the Community Solar Gardens Act in June 2010, and as we get closer to final PUC rules and XCEL's standard offer.  The map above shows some of the locations where a land owner, municipality, homeowners association, or citizens' group has expressed interest in locating offsite solar.

Ideally, we'd like to have at least one site for community owned energy operating in each Colorado county served by XCEL Energy or Black Hills Energy, as well as one for each rural or municipal utility.    This requires 60 or more sites.

XCEL is limited to 6 Megawatts of solar gardens per year for the first three years, and the amount allocated in Black Hills would be significantly smaller.  These sites could easily fill that quota until 2014 and keep going, with over $100 million worth of projects.  Colorado is shaped like a solar panel anyway...

But this is only the beginning... the "meme" of solar gardens (also referred to as community solar farms, community supported energy, community power, solar cooperatives or offsite solar) continues to spread. Already, we have community solar laws in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware, Washington,  and Colorado.  Other states are following along:

United States (Mainland) Community Solar Interest
The map above shows the interest the Solar Gardens Institute has received for our program around the United States.  These include specific sites for development, and proposals for new state laws.  And this is just one company!

I notice some interesting things - interest in community power is widely spread through the nation, in both red and blue states, in urban and rural areas.  People facing industrial-scale energy development or transmission lines tend to get active in distributed generation.

As interest expands, this will provide a truly vast economy of scale - a solar power plant the size of America, located on rooftops and parking lots, landfills and spent agricultural land.   While community organizing takes time, we can build it much more quickly than transmission lines or large desert projects.  Community solar uses bankable, proven technology, and if done in a truly "bottom-up" fashion gets support rather than opposition.

Big money has begun to take notice, and I have been taking phone calls from a small island in the Hudson River.  American corporations are sitting on top of an enormous amount of cash - and communities are clamoring for projects.  By bringing projects together, we can keep local control while putting that money to work.

It's not just an American phenomenon.  In a future post I will be examining Solar Gardens Going Global, and community power of all kinds growing around the world.

Email me to become a "solar gardener" and organize your community!

Joy Hughes
Founder, Solar Gardens Institute

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Solar Gardens Ownership Model - Community + Third Party Ownership = "C3PO"

The perfect community solar ownership model has yet to be devised, at least in the United States.  Navigating the maze of tax and securities law, while allowing subscribers to gain ownership by paying either up front or over time, is not a simple challenge.

In Colorado, the Community Solar Gardens Act specifies that solar gardens can be owned by third parties.  But a solar garden that stays owned by a third party in perpetuity could hardly be called a "community" project.

Anywhere in the U.S., third party owners can claim the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and accelerated depreciation (MACRS), which are not available to most potential subscribers.  This requires the investor to use a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) rather than a lease, and to maintain ownership for at least five years.  Often investors will "flip" a solar array to the site host or a community partner in year 6.

In principle, a subscriber organization could be involved in such an arrangement.  There are several potential ways to do this, which I have referred to as "Community + Third Party Ownership", which suggests the informal and unofficial label "C3PO".  Since (for once) I can't grab the URL, I hope this term will come into general (informal and unofficial) use.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Town of Saguache Signs Letter of Intent for Community Solar Garden

On April 18, in Saguache Colorado, the Town Board voted 7-0 to sign a letter of intent with the Solar Panel Hosting Company.  Saguache is located in the San Luis Valley, which receives the most annual sunshine of any region in Colorado, but faces economic challenges.

The letter commits our group to the following:

  •          Conduct preliminary energy assessment and review existing studies

  •          Produce detailed site characterization

  •          Investigate which Federal, State, and Local permits are required for your project

  •         Research loan and grant options

  •         Identify tax incentives and eligibility requirements

  •          Partner with the Solar Gardens Institute and local groups to study greatest social and economic impact in the town of Saguache

  •          Prepare a Solar Gardens application for filing with Xcel Energy

h   The solar array will likely be located near the Town's old landfill site.  In about 30-60 days there will be a public meeting to discuss this project, sized at 100-200 kilowatts or 1-2 acres depending on demand for subscriptions.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ontario, Canada Solar Co-op

A group in Orangeville is trying to get people to buy into the idea of solar energy – literally.
The Green Pathways Community Solar Cooperative Inc., along with its partner, Orangeville Hydro, approached Orangeville council at its April 4 meeting seeking a commitment from the town to lease the roof of its C Line operations centre to install solar PV (photovoltaic) panels.
The solar co-op was also exploring the possibility of installing panels on the roofs of the Alder Street Recreation Centre and the Tony Rose Memorial Sports Complex.
The attraction of such a deal would be that the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) would pay 70.2 cents a kilowatt hour when the power was sold back to the grid through its Feed In Tariff (FIT) program.
Read more:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Oregon Food Bank Goes Solar

MYRTLE POINT - The Myrtle Point Food Share wants to be a shining example of efficiency.
Taking advantage of a break in the weather Wednesday afternoon, Seth Lucas and Sam Schwarz schlepped solar panels across the food bank's roof and cautiously laid them across racks, positioning them just so....

Friday, April 8, 2011

May 6th – Community Solar Forum in Denver

     The Solar Gardens Institute, CRES, and COSEIA present Implementing Solar Gardens, Friday May 6th from 11-3.   CRES Headquarters in the Habitat for Humanity building, 3245 Elliot Street in Denver.

     Community representatives, solar developers, and anyone interested in the topic of community solar are welcome.   This will be fairly close to the release of the proposed program rules from XCEL Energy. 

     Free – donations eagerly accepted.  Please RSVP to so we can get an accurate head count.

     Jerry Marizza of United Power will relate his experience with developing the Sol Partners Cooperative Solar Farm near Brighton, Colorado’s first community solar project.  The first phase of the 20-kilowatt utility owned project was constructed in 2008.

     Tim Rehder of the EPA will discuss community solar developments on brownfields and parking lots.  There are eligible sites throughout Colorado.

     Joy Hughes, SGI founder, will speak on “Solar For Everyone” What will it take to develop a finance structure for solar ownership by middle and low income subscribers?  Joy will describe a model for community solar that allows subscribers to pay up front or over time, combining community and third party ownership - affectionately called "C3PO".

     Greg Ching of the Solar Gardens Institute and Nederland Renewable Energy project will present on "Hosting Services for Developers"

     We will have an open meeting and discussion of the new rules and the next steps for working together to make Colorado’s solar gardens program a success!