Community Solar Gardens For All
Community Solar Gardens For All
Solution proposed by:
Idea submitted by Cooperative Energy Futures
In a Nutshell:
Community Solar Gardens (CSG) make solar affordable by building a large solar array on a sunny roof or open area. When developed with a socially just approach, CSGs can also make solar available to anyone who pays an electric bill by allowing renters, home-owners, businesses, and organizations to subscribe for solar power.
Where and When:
● Minneapolis and surrounding cities, MN, USA, 2014-Present ● Denver, Boulder, and other nearby communities, CO, USA, 2009-Present ● Baltimore, MD and Washington DC, USA, 2015-Present ● Springfield, MA and surrounding MA, VT, and NY communities, USA, 2014-Present ● Similar models are common in Germany and Denmark.
Many people in urban communities face high energy bills, asthma, and unemployment. Solar can cut energy costs and air pollution while creating local jobs, but many people can’t put up solar themselves because they don't own property or have poor solar access on their homes. Most larger institutions that have the space to develop large solar arrays are unable or unwilling to invest significant upfront capital to develop solar themselves, restricting the rapid expansion of clean renewable energy as an urban solution to climate change.
Community Solar Gardens remove barriers to participation in clean energy, allowing anyone who pays an electric utility bill to participate in clean energy at lower cost. They also allow rapid acceleration of urban renewable energy deployment and reducing urban air pollution by creating a pathway for a large number of energy users to pay for large renewable energy systems that are sized for their use. CSGs also provide job training and employment opportunities for low-income people in the inner city. Finally, CSGs allow urban energy users to benefit from the financial returns of their participation in an electric grid, reversing the flow of energy dollars out of urban communities.
Community Solar Gardens require the local utility to provide credits on the utility bills of energy users who subscribe to get their power from a large centralized solar array that is built and financed by a third party. Subscribers can participate by paying one-time upfront for the solar produced by their portion of the array at a cost roughly 40% of what they would pay to install a system of the same size on an individual home. Some CSG models that focus on creating widespread solar access for low-income people also allow subscribers to pay monthly for the electricity produced by their portion of the array at a discount from what they would pay for energy otherwise, creating immediate savings from month one. This allows low-income people, who spend a disproportionate percentage of their income paying for utilities, to benefit immediately from community solar. While many private developers restrict participation in CSGs to large corporations or individuals with credit scores above 700, a growing number of CSG developers are taking an approach focused on economic justice and local job creation. Cooperative ownership models additionally ensure that the energy wealth generated by CSGs returns to the communities that use them.
CSGs can take a number of forms, but the urban, justice-oriented CSGs this solution highlights tend to be mounted on large roof-tops. An example is the Shiloh Temple community solar garden in North Minneapolis, which is a 202kW array being constructed in Spring 2016 on the roof of Shiloh Temple International Ministries. North Minneapolis is a low income community with significant African American and Southeast Asian populations, and Shiloh Temple is a predominantly black church. The Shiloh solar garden is subscribed 20% by the church itself, about 25% by residents both within and outside North Minneapolis who are subscribing on an upfront basis, and the remaining 55% pay-as-you-go by North Minneapolis residents and members of the Shiloh congregation. The solar array generates about enough power for 40 average homes, and delivers electricity to the local power grid of the electric utility, Xcel Energy. According to Minnesota State Law (CSGs are authorized in law in 9 US states, with slightly different rules in each), Xcel Energy is required to connect CSGs to the grid and provide credits on the utility bills of subscribers. Community members who are subscribing upfront pay on average zero out their energy bills. Community members who are subscribing pay-as-you-go receive a 7% discount on their electric costs in year 1, a discount that increases as electricity prices rise in the future. The project and other Just Community Solar Gardens also create local jobs through hiring requirements that ensure that at least 50% of installation labor is sourced from communities of color through a job training program for North Side residents.
1. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through replacement of utility electricity from coal and natural gas power plants with clean solar energy. 2. Reductions in energy costs for urban low-income families. 3. Jobs created for urban residents. 4. Community wealth through cooperative ownership of clean energy assets.