Would you like to power your home or business with clean, emission-free, cost-effective solar energy but there are barriers to going solar where you are? Perhaps your home or business is not equipped for solar panels, or you don’t own the property, or the upfront investment won’t pay off in the time you expect to spend at your current location.
Even still you may be able to draw your electricity from solar generation through a community solar program.
Community solar is a growing concept across parts of the country, mostly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, in which solar farms larger than a rooftop array but smaller than a massive utility-scale solar setup that covers many acres produces green power and sells it to subscribers through the local utility. The arrangement requires legislation that directs a state’s utilities to accept the power from solar farms (sometimes called solar gardens) and direct them to specific customers who opt in.
Subscribers benefit from joining a community that reduces their carbon footprint and lowers their electric bills, usually by 10 to 15 percent, without any upfront investment.
Community solar benefits everyone
These solar farms, usually less than 30 acres in space, benefit consumers, landowners, counties, utilities and the nation’s power grid all at the same time. It’s literally a win-win-win-win-win-win.
Landowners benefit by leasing a portion of their land to a solar company to produce solar power. Farmers love solar farms because they can lease out a portion of the farm for consistent income over a long period – leases usually cover 25-35 years – to diversify their income stream and reduce their workload. Non-farmers who own tracts of land and want to generate some income from them can also benefit from leasing to a solar farm.
Utilities benefit from solar farms because they can provide renewable energy to a portion of their coverage area without having to produce the power themselves. This diversifies their power production and helps reduce their use of fossil fuels.
Municipalities benefit from taxes generated by development that takes up relatively small amounts of land and requires no municipal services. It’s about the least impactful development imaginable. The electrical grid benefits the same way utilities do – by incorporating another power generation source, this one totally clean and emission-free.
The consumers enjoy a lower power bill along with the peace of mind of helping the planet by utilizing sustainable energy sources. And, of course, Mother Nature herself prospers from less greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.
Community solar is the future
Community solar is different from your local utility’s “green power” program in which customers pay a premium to have their power derived from the tiny amount of clean energy the utility generates. These arrangements do not increase the total amount of solar or any other renewable energy produced; they simply indicate customer preference. Community solar farms, on the other hand, divert some of the power production and distribution from non-renewable sources.
Most community solar programs allow anyone in a utility’s footprint to become a subscriber and share in the cost-savings. There is another kind of community solar arrangement in which residents of a neighborhood, development or even apartment building join to purchase their power from on-site solar power generation. This is a trend that is just emerging, but we expect to see more of these arrangements included in developers’ master plans.
The power grid of the future will look more like community solar farms serving a few hundred customers each than behemoth utilities serving whole population centers. Thousands of smaller, localized “distributed” energy generators transmitting shorter distances offer a safer and more secure power grid than a handful of large distributors transmitting across regions. In that way, community solar farms are simply a peek into the future.