Community and sustainability goals often fall under the same umbrella. As communities strengthen, unobtainable individual objectives become attainable as a whole. Communities around the United States are investing in “community solar gardens” to ease individual financial burden and extend access to residences unsuitable for rooftop solar.
The vast majority of community solar projects were developed post-2010, when the Solar Uniting Neighborhoods Act extended existing tax credits to community solar projects in response to large numbers of residents whose homes do not support solar panels. Trees, roof size, and building codes are common impediments to homeowners who would like to install solar panels. In Arizona particularly, trees present a tradeoff between providing energy savings via shade and evapotranspiration while limiting rooftop area for solar panels.
Residents are increasingly provided solutions for these impediments, and total community solar energy production is expected to more than double in 2016. Ten states including our neighbors California, Colorado, and Utah promote community solar through policy and programs.
The SolarShares program in California allows utility customers (renters and homeowners) to buy shares of utility-owned solar panels in return for reduced energy bills.
Colorado Springs Utilities has one of the largest community solar projects in the country and provides credits for households, businesses, and municipalities.
In Utah, Artspace Solar Gardens is a net zero apartment complex and commercial space powered by rooftop and parking lot solar panels.
Community solar incentives have stimulated utilities and developers to expand solar production, but the idea can be used for any group of people.
Massachusetts passed The Green Communities Act in 2008, allowing residents in a neighborhood to pool resources to cover the cost of renewable energy installation. The residents of Brewster County formed a cooperatively funded solar garden by leasing city land for panels and forming a nonprofit corporation to pay its members. Members include individuals, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.
In Arizona, Bright Tucson Community Solar also allows Tucson Electric Power customers to buy solar power from their local panels. Such programs are only the beginning of a new paradigm ushering in different scales of power systems based on the community’s needs.
We hope to see continued progress in this field and increased excitement in Arizona to help bring us up to par with our neighboring states.
“Solar power, wind power, the way forward is to collaborate with nature - it's the only way we are going to get to the other end of the 21st century.” - Bjork