Case Studies in Expanding Solar Participation through Community Solar

SolSmart’s Expanding Solar Participation through Community Solar: A Win-Win-Win for Municipalities, Utilities, and their Customers webinar was held on April 4th. The webinar provided an overview of various community solar models and presented several case studies highlighting successful community solar projects from the perspective of a municipality, a utility, and a solar developer. We hope you found the webinar content informative. The webinar presentation and recording are available on the SolSmart website.

SolSmart is excited to release its first Issue Brief, Expanding Solar Participation through Community Solar. This Issue Brief provides a summary of community solar, its benefits, policy considerations, and case studies.  

Communities interested in pursuing SolSmart designation and technical assistance should complete a simple request for consultation form available here.

The following resources may be of interest:

The following Q&A is a follow up to some questions received during the webinar:

Q: As a general rule, how many acres of available land would a local government need to develop a community solar array?

A: Depending on the solar technology deployed, a ground mount solar array typically requires 5 to 10 acres per megawatt of capacity. Though not as common, a community solar arrays can also be developed on a large roof top. For example, a community solar array from Madison Gas & Electric was installed on the roof of the City of Middleton’s Municipal Operations Center.

Q: What processes did you use to engage and educate your residents? (Specific to Fremont, NE example) 

A: First, we conducted a survey, using both a paper and an online survey. We used social media and conventional print media to promote the survey. After getting a good return of surveys, we conducted almost a dozen community meetings and met with numerous community groups (Kiwanis, Rotary, Eagles, Optimists, etc.) to inform customers of the survey results as well as provide education about community solar. We also used various bill stuffers to engage customers too. It worked because we sold out our first 1.5MW solar farm in seven weeks! (Brian, Fremont, NE)

Q: What program policies or structures make community solar an option for LMI?

A: We found that low to moderate income (LMI) customers shy away from any program that increases their electric bill. That is why we wrote a grant to purchase community solar energy from our second solar farm, so we could pass on the savings (albeit small savings) to LMI customers. (Brian, Fremont, NE)

A: In Colorado, we do competitive bids (RFPs) for projects/RECs, as well as set incentives for smaller gardens based on the awarded bids plus a fixed $/REC adder. Remember, the gardens with Xcel Energy are constructed and advertised/sold to customers by third parties.

We’ve done a few different things over time.

  1. Program offering/RFP with multiple gardens where every garden must have at least 5% low-income customer participation.
  2. Specific low-income program offering/RFP where every garden must have 100% low-income customer participation.
  3. Open customer program offering/RFP with language or a scoring matrix that suggests a preference to award low-income customer participation projects (given competitive pricing).
  4. Utility ownership/offering of the garden(s) that are built for 100% low-income customer participation.

Internally and with stakeholders, we continue to discuss the best options for economically efficiency and sustainable models (for solar community gardens and other renewable energy investments/programs). (Eric, Xcel Energy)