Solar Gardens are Gaining Ground in Communities

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Courtesy of Greenshine New Energy LLC

While the idea of using solar energy appeals to many people, not everyone lives in a place where they can easily have access to it.

Many people live in apartments, for example, so unless you convince your landlord to allow you to put solar panels on the roof of your building, you’re out of luck. Many others have heavily shaded houses or roofs and yards that are too small to accommodate a solar energy system. In situations like these, a community solar energy garden allows residents to take advantage of solar energy without needing to buy and install a solar system.

Community solar gardens are centralized locations where solar arrays are installed. This is on available land in or near a community, on the roof a school, community center or another public building. Once the array is in place, community members can subscribe to receive a share of the power generated by the panels. Each subscriber’s utility bill is credited with the electricity generated by their share of the community solar garden.

Community solar gardens make sense in areas where there is a high interest solar power, but residents lack the funds or proper infrastructure to install an array on their individual properties. In addition, the solar arrays are maintained by the facility owner, which offers peace of mind to individuals who do not want the responsibility keeping the solar array to which they subscribe in good working order.

Colorado became the first state to pass legislation to establish community solar energy gardens. The Colorado Community Solar Gardens Act of 2010 established guidelines to residents who wanted to purchase energy from a solar garden build near where they live. Minnesota is the most recent state officially to sanction solar gardens. According to 2013 legislation, the utility Xcel energy must implement a community solar program while all other utilities have to option of developing community solar gardens if they choose. The first Minnesota solar garden in Xcel’s program, a $261,000, thirty-nine-kilowatt array, sold out in February 2014, with twenty-five subscribers buying everything from one to twenty-nine units, depending on their energy demands.

The trend towards solar energy gardens may develop into a common site in every community; provided the legislative support is available. Creating a solar energy garden can reduce solar energy costs to residents who might not otherwise be able to afford a solar array. Cities can come together in support of clean solar energy while investing in the people and buildings that make up their community.    

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