Solar Gardens are sprouting up everywhere as social networks become solar networks
[The following is a guest post by Joy Hughes, founder of the Solar Panel Hosting Company and SolarGardens.org. -TH]
My friend has solar panels on her house, and every month she gets a check from the power company for the energy she produces. This is because in Colorado we have “net metering”, which pays you if you produce more electricity than you use. Not everyone can do this—some rent their houses, live in condominiums, or have trees shading their roofs. When you think about it, that’s probably more than half the people.
I founded the Solar Panel Hosting Company to address this issue. You own your panels on a rooftop nearby, measure how much they are producing, and subtract your usage. Your check arrives, just as if the panels were on your own roof.
A community solar garden refers to clusters of hosted panels shared by a group of people. In the grand tradition of cooperatives, people band together to provide energy for their collective needs. Ideally, everyone, regardless of income or credit, will own their own solar panels, creating community wealth.
In order for this to work, reform needs to happen at both the federal and state levels. At the federal level, Senator Mark Udall’s SUN Act will give equal tax breaks to panels hosted off-site. SolarGardens.org is gathering support for this bill nationwide.
Several states now have laws to support community solar energy, including Washington, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. In other places, solar gardens can be facilitated by a good price for solar fed into the grid – Oregon, Indiana, Florida, and the Province of Ontario now have such a policy, called a “feed in tariff”. Elsewhere, an agreeable power company can bless such a deal. A dozen or more community solar facilities are already in operation around the country.
In Colorado, the Community Solar Gardens bill is working its way through the legislature. This bill allows individual subscribers to participate in solar gardens within their own county. In smaller counties subscribers will be allowed access to solar gardens in adjacent counties. Colorado’s solar gardens can have as few as ten subscribers, or as many as hundreds. If the bill passes, rule making will begin in October, and solar gardens can be built in 2011.
We are developing business models for these facilities, so solar garden hosts can receive the same percentage revenue they would from an oil well. In some states, investors will be able to “flip” ownership of panels to community groups, so money can be freed up to build more solar gardens.
Solar Gardens are sprouting up everywhere as social networks become solar networks. For instance, parents can own solar panels on a school to raise money to save teacher jobs. Churches and synagogues, libraries, neighborhood gardens and food co-ops are all examples of groups that can create a solar garden. Artists and architects can add value by creating solar sculpture gardens and beautiful solar monuments. We can encourage human-scale facilities that build community pride and social capital, and reduce the need for transmission lines and large solar farms.
Anyone, anywhere, can begin the process of organizing a Community Solar Garden. The Solar Gardens movement is a community of communities, sharing knowledge and expertise. Working together, we can bring our power back home, and truly make energy a community decision.
Photo: Some rights reserved by Avinash Kaushik at flickr