Monday, November 30, 2015

Webinar 12/4: Strategies for Low and Moderate Income (LMI) Inclusion in New York State

     Join us for an hour-long webinar on Dec 04, 2015 at 10:00 AM EST.
Register now!
Presenter: Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute

How can we make access to clean renewable energy a human right? Until recently, the majority of residential solar energy systems have been installed for well-off homeowners with sunny roofs. A solar garden is like a community garden - instead of having a patch of vegetables, a customer benefits from a number of panels in a shared array, with power produced credited on the electric bill.

New York’s new Community Shared Renewables program includes important provisions to incentivize the participation of LMI customers. Until April 30, 2016, each array installed under the program in certain areas must provide at least 20% of its capacity to LMI customers. This workshop will explore business models for solar gardens that are advantageous to LMI customers, allowing for energy savings and the ability to own their own panels.

Specific topics:
- Review of community solar models for LMI customers
- Community outreach and customer acquisition in LMI communities
- The relative benefits of solar ownership versus solar power purchases for LMI customers
- The National Community Solar Partnership (White House / Department of Energy)
- Recent changes in IRS policy
- Upcoming changes to federal tax credits
- Securities Law considerations
- Common challenges and hurdles
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Offered by:
 Here Comes Solar NYC
Group-Based Purchasing. When homeowners pursue solar at the same time as a group, they can achieve more competitive pricing than if they went it alone.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Large Solar Projects Capped Out in Massachusetts | EcoRI News

Massachusetts heads into the holiday season with some unfinished environmental business. Despite some late action with competing bills, the Legislature failed to raise the cap on a popular solar program before it wrapped up the 2015 session.

The state’s solar ceiling has already been reached in 171 communities serviced by National Grid, primarily in eastern Massachusetts. The limit doesn’t affect small residential solar projects. But the cap does prevent larger, often shared or community solar arrays, from powering their homes with remote solar arrays that benefit renters, low-income communities and homes whose roofs aren’t suitable for solar panels.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Minnesota: Xcel Energy Reports 24 Community Solar Garden Projects are Beginning Construction | Stoel Rives LLP - JDSupra

Xcel Energy filed its monthly report for the Community Solar Garden program with the Public Utilities Commission last week, revealing that 24 projects are moving to the beginning stages of construction.

Xcel also reports that, "after receiving over 600 applications in the surge to submit co-located projects, the pace has slowed considerably." There are currently 615 applications in the interconnection queue and 925 applications being reviewed for completeness, but the utility believes that "many of these projects in the application stage are 'placeholders' that may not be actively pursued by developers." Xcel adds that "63% of pending applications are in the application stage, 35% are either being studied or waiting for payment, and 2% have moved into construction."

Read more:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Giving Low-Income Families Access to Clean Energy and Efficiency | Rocky Mountain Institute

In June, RMI—along with its partner organizations—launched eLab Leap in New York to identify the unmet needs and create solutions that empower and improve the lives of low-income communities and households in a clean energy future.
Forty diverse groups joined eLab Leap's first meeting including low-income and consumer advocates, environmental groups, government entities, housing organizations, utilities, regulators, foundations, and financiers.
The meeting attendees created four initiatives to collaboratively implement and test solutions for low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities in New York. These initiatives are:
  • REVitalize: Fund a community-generated, clean energy plan that leverages New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding to bring economic and environmental justice to all members of the community.
  • Public Participation Initiative: Drive more effective engagement, participation, and communication between government agencies and stakeholders working on low-income issues in New York.
  • Community Energy Project: Conduct and implement holistic and complete energy efficiency, weatherization, and DER audits, retrofits and upgrades all at once, and at scale in a particular neighborhood, and develop a sustainable funding model.
  • Guide to Community-Owned, Local LMI Microgrids: Develop a guide to help communities interested in pursuing community-owned, local renewable energy infrastructure to understand the decisions they need to make and the actions they need to take to achieve their goals.

Community solar makes participation affordable in Delaware | Public Power Daily

Each participant pays a low entry fee — $50 — to join a community solar project. The money is used to install energy efficiency measures that will benefit the entire community, such as LED street lighting. The money saved through the energy efficiency benefits everyone in the community, even if they don’t participate in the community solar project.

DEMEC set up the program so that it can accept financial donations from those who want to give community solar an extra boost.

The community solar project also offers its output below retail market rates. The program is able to keep costs down because the community solar projects avoid several costs, such as the utilities' need to buy solar renewable energy certificates and provide net metering credits.

As a result, the program offers blocks of solar to community participants at one cent less than they would otherwise pay for electricity.


Arkansas’ First Community Solar Center Breaks Ground Nov. 20 | AMP

This project is very interesting as it takes advantage of recent IRS policy allowing each customer to claim a 30% federal tax credit. This eliminates the transaction costs associated with tax equity financing. Unfortunately, this model will only be available until the end of 2016. 

The project is also unusual in that it uses meter aggregation rather than virtual net metering. Each customer has a separately metered physical array on site. 

– Joy


Members of three local organizations dedicated to expanding access to solar power will break ground on the state’s first community solar center on Friday, Nov. 20.

The 1 acre Bearskin Solar Center in Scott is also the first of many planned community solar centers in Arkansas, said Bill Ball, CEO of Stellar Sun, an Arkansas renewable energy services company and one of the project’s organizers. He said two others are currently in the works, but could not yet provide details.


Initial setup fees for consumers buying into the Bearskin center can be $3.25 to $3.65 per watt for residential properties, he explained. A 30 percent Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit is typically available for homeowners with a solar array located on their properties, but Ball said the Internal Revenue Service has issued specific rulings allowing customers that have purchased community solar arrays to also claim the credit. He said this is explained to customers seeking to buy into the Bearskin project.

NYSERDA Program Increases Solar Access for Low- to Moderate-Income Residents | 2015-11-19 | ACHRNEWS

Part of the NY-Sun initiative, Affordable Solar is authorized to spend $13 million to achieve greater participation by low- to moderate-income customers in solar electric programs. The double incentives for low- to moderate-income homeowners will use approximately half of that funding. The other half will be used in the future to support shared solar projects for renters and others who do not have rooftops or who have rooftops that are unsuitable for solar.

Read more:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

FACT SHEET: Administration Announces 68 Cities, States, and Businesses Are Working Together to Increase Access to Solar for All Americans |

The Obama Administration is committed to addressing climate change, promoting clean energy, and creating good paying jobs.  That is why, at a National Community Solar Summit at the White House today, the Administration is announcing 68 cities, states, and businesses are joining together to promote community solar, with an emphasis on scaling up solar for low- and moderate- income households. Community solar allows multiple households and businesses to pool their resources and invest in shared solar systems to save on their energy bills. Today, private sector organizations are building on the initial commitments announced in July, bringing the total number of pledges to advance community solar and scale up solar and for low- and moderate- income households to more than 20,000 households and $545 million across 21states.

Actions like the ones announced today, will help the U.S. transition to cleaner sources of energy faster and ensure the opportunity to access clean energy is available to those who need it most, putting the U.S. on a strong playing field to secure an ambitious climate agreement in Paris.   

Since President Obama took office, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased nearly twenty fold. Since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system has dropped by 50 percent. However, nearly 50 percent of American households and businesses are renters or lack the capital and adequate roof space to install solar systems.

Community solar has the potential to unlock economic growth across the United States while providing clean solar power to historically underserved communities and allowing them to benefit from the falling costs and increased deployment of solar. Low-income households, which spend four times greater proportion of their income on energy than the national median, can see significant benefits from community solar. Access to solar power could substantially reduce the energy burden of low-income households by providing stable electricity prices below local utility rates.

White House fact sheet:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

NRECA Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) Project - NRECA

The Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration project, or SUNDA, is developing a standardized "Photovoltaic system package" consisting of engineering designs, business models, financing and insurance options, and optimized procurement that can reduce the cost of utility-scale solar projects. NRECA estimates these packages can reduce engineering design costs by 25 percent, procurement costs by ten percent and insurance costs by 25 percent.

The SUNDA project aims to bring the cost of installed solar down to $1.60/Wp.

Read more:

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Big Picture - A Grand Vision for Community Solar

Imagine a world where everyone owns their own solar panels. Whether from rooftop panels or a nearby solar garden shared with neighbors, each person will have clean, locally produced electricity as a birthright. With each solar garden the centerpiece of a community microgrid, power supply can be resilient to extreme weather, becoming an “island” of power when needed. Money for electricity stays local, building vibrant community wealth. The electric grid and utilities are re-engineered, managing a bidirectional flow of power from where the sun shines and wind blows to wherever it is needed most, dynamically changing with conditions. Batteries, both stationary and in smart-charging vehicles, provide support at night and when the sun goes behind a cloud. This is the distributed energy vision, which addresses both the problems of climate change and economic inequality. has supported the distributed energy vision since early 2010, a time when the centralized energy paradigm was dominant. The plan on the table was for huge solar and wind power plants to be built in remote areas, with a web of new transmission lines bringing renewable power to the cities. While “big solar” remains a big part of the picture, distributed energy has gained traction in recent years in particular because of the rapid reduction in solar PV prices.

Community and shared solar systems have expanded rapidly in the United States and several other countries. The openings of solar gardens programs in Colorado and Minnesota have lead to mini “gold rushes” as companies compete for opportunities, sometimes even bidding the price for renewable energy credits down to negative levels. New programs are getting started in California and New York, while Maryland and Hawaii join a dozen or so states with legislation supporting shared solar. More utilities including municipal, cooperative, and investor-owned have stepped up to the plate with voluntary programs. Because solar gardens have something to offer customers, developers, and utilities alike, the community solar sector has become the fastest growing of the U.S. solar industry, expected to grow to 5000 megawatts or more by 2020. In a recent paper, the Department of Energy estimates that shared solar could make up 32% to 49% of the distributed PV market in 2020. Given the increasing share of solar in the renewables market, shared solar will become an important part of a climate solution.

The federal government has been active as well in promoting shared solar. The Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative issued $15 million in grants to encourage development in the sector. The White House announced the National Community Solar Partnership, bringing together government, developers, nonprofits, and industry groups while establishing funding for projects supplying affordable housing. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has continued to support the industry with research and how-to guides.

Policy Changes

The potential for the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to expire at the end of 2016 is roiling the U.S. solar industry. While the credit was an engine that drove the solar industry’s growth, substantial transaction costs associated with tax equity make it an inefficient way to fund projects, particularly the modest-sized arrays typical of community solar. The silver lining of an ITC expiration would be the simplification of the business structures needed to operate a community solar garden. Nonprofits and cooperatives could manage shared solar systems and take advantage of state and federal securities law exemptions. In the meantime, recent IRS rulings will allow community solar subscribers to claim the tax credits for their ownership stake. Business models and software can be made available to community groups as “open source”.

In the international realm, cooperatively owned solar power is commonplace in countries such as Great Britain and Australia, while unheard of in other countries, including China. With increased cooperation between China and the United States in the prelude to the Paris climate talks, Asia’s dense cities represent a huge potential market for offsite solar PV. In the developing world, community microgrids for rural electrification are offering opportunities to thousands.

Encompassing All Technologies

Community ownership models can be applied to assets other than solar panels, such as wind or other renewables, energy storage, or microgrids. Battery storage news has been dominated in recent months by Tesla’s PowerWall, using lithium-ion technology similar to electric car batteries. This has not, however, stopped the continuing drumbeat of innovation in this field, including metal air, flow, and organic batteries. The jury is still out on what will be the dominant chemistry long-term, but with so many technological avenues to explore a cost-effective leader should emerge. Ways for owners to monetize the benefits of batteries to the grid at large must be found.

Microgrids promise local, renewable energy that can be reliably produced even if the larger grid goes down. By being able to operate independently, a microgrid can operate as both a load center and a virtual power plant dependent on supply and demand conditions. It can deploy generation, storage, and demand management to make its supply or demand predictable an hour or more into the future, a boon for utilities that must schedule power purchases. The microgrid business has been rapidly growing, with particular interest from areas that have recently experienced extreme weather events.

Working With the Land, Anticipating the Future Grid

It’s important to select good host sites that support the grid, are built environmentally responsibly, and are ready for potential developments such as microgrids including vehicle charging and stationary storage. Utilities can direct solar development to areas where it will minimize grid congestion and infrastructure costs. Because solar energy production takes up a lot of space, it’s important to focus on sites with multiple uses, such as crops or grazing (“agrivoltaics”), parking lots, or rooftops. Solar arrays may also be located in sites where land use requires a buffer, such as airports, water treatment plants, or roadsides. It would be useful to include a solar garden on each feeder, with participants on the same line, to reduce transmission losses and potentially support conversion to a microgrid. Having a solar garden in the same community as participants fosters a sense of local ownership and keeps money local - that’s why we call it community solar.

Excitement around community solar is growing, and solar gardens are sprouting up everywhere! Each project has a passionate champion, a “solar gardener” who is part project manager, part community organizer. Solar gardeners are building a grassroots movement to keep energy and money local while protecting the climate, air, and water. Maybe that’s you, or maybe you’d like to get started… Let’s do it!

Recently, I took some time to travel to China and learn about the potential for the international market. Given the exciting community solar environment today, I am restarting the Solar Gardens blog. The format will be a bit different, including a weekly post on an interesting topic in community solar, and a weekly news round-up. I hope to improve, finding new ways to provide value and new partners to work with to better serve the community solar community. Let’s work together to make this grand vision possible.

First solar garden completed in Xcel's Minnesota region | Star Tribune

"The first community solar garden has sprouted in Xcel Energy's Minnesota service area — on a farm."

"Utility officials, the project developer and its customers held an open house Friday at Vetter Farms near Kasota, Minn., where 96 ground-mounted solar panels now offset electricity used on the farm and by nearby homes."

Read more at Star Tribune:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

NREL Paper on Shared Solar

The recent NREL paper "Shared Solar: Current Landscape, Market Potential, and the Impact of Federal Securities Regulation" gives a good glimpse at the potential of community solar in the United States. 

The market potential is clearly enormous in the near future. The authors assert that shared solar will account for just about all the growth in the U.S. solar market after the Investment Tax Credit expires at the end of 2016. "Combining the potential market penetration of the shared solar business model in the residential and non-residential sectors [...] we estimate that shared solar could represent 32%–49% of the distributed PV market in 2020, growing cumulative PV deployment by 5.5– 11.0 GW and representing $8.2–$16.3 billion of cumulative investment." That's a lot of solar gardens!

The paper recounts research using LIDAR models suggesting that about 50% of U.S. households cannot host a PV array of 1.5kW or greater. This is significantly less than the 75% number typically used in the community solar industry, and should be considered a lower bound, as it does not allow for poor quality roofs, historic districts, and the like. 

New IRS rulings make the tax picture look more hopeful for subscribers to be able to claim their own tax credits, although this will only matter until the likely ITC expiration.

- Joy Hughes

Read the paper at NREL:

Vermont Introduces Community Solar Financing | CESA

"While it’s true that solar is more competitive than ever, it is still not an equal-access commodity; and competitive pricing may not help much if you don’t own property or enjoy a good credit rating. For this reason a number of CESA member states have expressed interest in programs, such as community solar, that could help make the technology accessible to those who have not heretofore been able to access it."

"Now Vermont has taken the concept a step farther, with a financing program for community solar projects that will buy down interest rates for residents who need to borrow in order to participate. The Vermont Community Solar Loan Program, administered by the Vermont Public Service Department’s Clean Energy Development Fund, will provide affordable financing to help low-income Vermonters buy an ownership interest in community solar projects with up to 500 kW capacity. The interest rate buy-down will be funded through support from the SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge II, and the loans will be administered through the Vermont State Employees Credit Union. The program will offer unsecured or secured loans up to $40,000, with terms up to 15 years."

New York Encourages Pairing of Community Microgrids and Community Solar | Microgrid Knowledge

"New York officials are encouraging cities and towns that are planning community microgrids to couple them with community solar or ‘shared renewables.’"

"Community microgrids and community solar are viewed as natural brethren, given that both are local energy alternatives with communal benefits. Some companies are forming a new business model around the idea of bringing community solar to microgrids."

Read more at Microgrid Knowledge:

CEC set to launch Oregon's first 'community solar' project |

"Central Electric Cooperative will ceremonially launch Oregon's first 'community solar' project with a 'panel-hanging' next week near its service center in southeast Bend."

"The community solar project lets CEC members voluntarily share in the costs and benefits of the 200,000-watt installation on approximately 1.7 acres of land adjacent to the co-op’s Bend Service Center"


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How can large-scale solar power reduce pressure on farm land? | Mother Nature Network

It's all through our Founding Principles - Tree Preservation, Share the Land, Shade Over Pavement, Be a Good Neighbor... What it comes down to is multiple uses for the space taken up by solar panels. "Agrivoltaics" is a term for raising plants or animals on land occupied by solar farms. It's great to see this happening more and more!

Mother Nature Network has a great article on this:

Red tape at Xcel Energy ensnares Minnesota community solar developments

"Artists, students, activists and other community members organized by Community Power and its partners are gathering this morning for a slow-motion demonstration at Xcel Energy's Headquarters. The protest is in response to the utility's staggering delays in processing community solar gardens. At the 11:30 am demonstration, participants will ask Xcel to live up to their "responsible by nature" slogan and comply with their legal obligation to approve solar applications within 90 days."
"As of October 5, 2015, Xcel has received 1,662 solar garden applications, of which it has deemed 607 complete, five have been approved. Only one very small (35kW, about enough for six homes) solar garden has been constructed to date."
Read more at Solar Power World

Monday, November 9, 2015

Community Solar up and running at Lopez School | Islands Weekly

"The Community Solar installation at Lopez School is complete and the new solar panels will be supplying 9.9 kilowatts of electricity to the school ongoing."

"More than 70 contributors invested or donated a total of $35,000 to purchase and install the panels. Those investing will receive approximately a 10 percent payback per year and the school will receive the electricity generated for free. After ten years investor principal will have been returned and the school will own the panels outright."

Read more at Islands Weekly:

IRS ruling could boost community solar | Community Power Network

"Community solar in the U.S. is flourishing as never before. An important new ruling by the IRS may serve to accelerate this growth. Homeowners are eligible for a 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) for solar installed on their roofs, under IRS Section 25D. This credit was understood to only be available for rooftop solar owners. But, a recent IRS ruling found that the owner of an offsite solar array could also be eligible for this credit. The IRS ruled that Roland Marx, a co-founder and member of Vermont’s Boardman Hill Solar Farm, is eligible for the ITC. This is despite the fact that the energy his system generates comes from a remote solar array and not from his roof. This ruling could have a serious impact on the speed at which projects like the Boardman Hill Solar Farm develop. To understand why, it is necessary to understand how Mr. Marx’s solar ownership works."

Read more at Community Power Network:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Rise of Community Solar: An Opportunity for Energy Equity | Cornell Policy Review

"Solar and low-income energy assistance programs have long been seen as incompatible. With the recent boom in the solar energy market, however, these programs have begun to converge. Increased attention to the socio-economic benefits of solar energy has driven the desire to address participatory barriers within the market. Improving the accessibility of solar energy to low-income populations has become a possibility with the onset of the community solar movement. Once a hope, it is now a tangible reality that clean energy will cease to be a luxury in the United States."

Read more at Cornell Policy Review:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Joy Goes To Washington D.C. - The National Community Solar Partnership

Community solar is taking off in the United States! The White House and Department of Energy have taken notice and are bringing experts together to take it to the next level.

On November 17th I will be representing the Solar Gardens Institute at the National Community Solar Partnership workshop in Washington, DC. The Partnership’s mission is to "leverage the momentum in the public and private sector to expand solar access to new markets". The NCSP is convening federal agencies, state governments, academia, utilities, nonprofits, and industry to "assess market barriers and catalyze deployment in low and moderate (LMI) communities."

The workshop will be an opportunity for SGI to represent the community of communities reached by the blog and mailing list. I will be discussing new developments in IRS tax policy that will allow solar garden subscribers to claim their own tax credits, and the challenges and opportunities presented by the likely expiration of the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC). 

The Washington, D.C. City Council has approved a community renewables program, which is currently in a rule making process. I will also be traveling to New York, where a new statewide shared solar program is coming soon. Simplified business models made possible by federal policy changes could benefit communities in both jurisdictions.

Let's think big - what are the big policy opportunities that could create “quantum leap” in community solar, bringing a solar garden to every city, town, and rural district in America? How can every state, every utility offer the opportunity for every American to go solar? Reply to this message with your ideas.

Help Joy get to Washington, D.C.! Please donate to the Solar Gardens Institute to make this work possible. (A donation of air miles would also be valuable.)

Many thanks,

Joy Hughes

P.S. After a hiatus, the solar gardens blog is coming back! Look for a new weekly format, as community solar is taking off in the U.S. and worldwide. We'll be taking a close look at the policy, projects, and people who are creating an equitable, low-carbon future worldwide!