Solar power continues to gain traction over fossil fuels throughout the nation as a renewable alternative energy source. This is demonstrated the growing popularity of community solar gardens. These community solar projects challenge the traditional model of individual ownership, allowing groups of individuals to own solar arrays. But thanks to the forward thinking of Govenor Ritter and other Rocky Mountain solar advocates, Colorado has joined the handful of other states that have passed legislation to allow groups to capitalize on the potential community solar projects have to offer.
What is a solar garden?
A solar garden is an array of solar panels owned and shared by a group of individuals living in the nearby vicinity.
Along with the attractive renewable energy benefits of solar energy, community solar power offers an alternative to the traditional single-owner model, allowing group of neighboring homeowners, businesses, municipalities or even electric utilities to cut their electrical consumption costs.
By pooling resources and buying a solar system as a group, subscribers can save additional money and dissipate the initial installation cost further, explains The Solar Gardens Institute of Westminster, Colorado.
“For the first time, low-income homeowners and renters will be able to go solar,” says SolarGardens.org founder Joy Hughes. “We’ll put the first facilities on libraries, schools, and hospitals so these institutions can benefit.”
The chart on the bottom left illustrates how a solar investment looks for a garden, aka “cooperative,” investment and the chart on the bottom right demonstrates the “normal” investment scenario.
The Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative in Washington DC has 70 members and negotiated with a combination of preferred installers to get installed costs of near $5.50 per Watt over the standard $8.00 per Watt.
Signed into law in June 2010, the Community Solar Gardens Act has once again thrust Colorado into the renewable energy market spotlight, with the recent release of the finalized solar garden draft rules.
The Community Solar Garden Act now allows groups with a minimum of 10 individuals or entities known as “subscribers” to each own a share of a solar installation and be eligible to receive the same solar tax incentives individual homeowners can receive.
Additional guidelines include:
- System size limited to 2 Megawatts or less
- No subscriber is allowed to own more than 40% of the solar shares
- Compensation for subscribers is at a proportion to how much electricity is used and cannot be more than 120% of their consumption
- At least 5% of community solar garden capacity must be reserved for individuals or families at or below 185% of the poverty line
Solar gardens provide a whole new set of opportunities for individuals who desired to make the jump to solar power before, but were unable to. They also hold the potential for communities to significantly offset their electrical consumption. With Colorado and other states already making provisions, the future for community-based solar gardens looks bright indeed.