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An Electrifying Idea - Community Solar Gardens

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

One of my favorite statements by a corporate leader goes something like this: “If change outside of your organization is happening faster than change on the inside, the end is near.”  (Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric).  This is happening to a lot of organizations that provide you energy.  

In August of 2015, the average American home spent around $1,100 per year on electricity. [1] About two-thirds of that comes from very polluting and climate-changing coal and natural gas.[2]  Things are ”heating up,” as you may have noticed. Heading off trouble is going to require a lot of effort and expense to eliminate the greenhouse gas and pollution from dirty generating sources.  This will make electricity from coal and gas more expensive - but cut down on healthcare and storm damage expenses elsewhere.

At the same time, prices of new sources of pollution-free electricity are falling rapidly.   The cost of large solar electric installations at the end of 2014 was less than 5 cents per Kilowatt Hour (KWH) and predicted to keep falling rapidly[3],[4]. New wind-generated electricity is now down to around 2 cents per KWH[5].   Duke power charges its residential customers around 9 cents.  People can now make their own electricity cheaper than they can buy it.

Even the American oil and gas trade publication Oil and Gas 360 says that these falling prices resulted in two times more new clean power generation being installed in 2015 than all other sources combined[6].

For all the good associated with clean renewable energy, there are some challenges. Wind power only works in some parts of the country, and offshore.  Solar can be hard to fit in, because not all homes, schools and other buildings get a lot of sun.  There can be lots of shade trees or tall buildings that might shade the solar system.

A positive change outside the utilities is a new form of solar ownership, called a “Community Solar Garden”.  This is a solar electric generation station that is created by a lot of community members, each of whom own a share, the size of which varies depending on the size of their investment. 

The management of the Community Solar Garden works with the local utility and sees to it that the money saved by the Community Garden is applied to the members’ electric bill at home. The investor also gets their share of any approved federal and state tax credits.

In Austin, Texas, where a 3.2 Megawatt Community Solar Garden is under development,  they included the kind of battery produced by Alevo, the new solar battery plant located at the old Phillip Morris plant in Concord - a good sign that this new neighbor is headed for great things.

Several school districts in Colorado expect to save several million dollars in utility bills by joining together with other citizens to create a jointly owned Community Solar Garden project.  It is located miles from the schools.[7]

Twenty nine  major firms who install large solar installations in 24 states are using the Community Solar Garden business model.[8]  Fourteen more states are crafting legislation to make such projects easier.  You can learn more about this by going to the Internet and typing in Community Solar Platform, or Guide to Community Shared Solar, a publication of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Such projects shift the role of the electric utility away from operating large generation stations and the wires that carry the power to our homes toward a business model more focused on running the system of wires.

The bottom line is that the world outside electric utilities is heading toward lots of smaller decentralized sources of electricity, owned by individual citizens and private investors who want to control their rising energy costs, control pollution, and keep jobs at home.   

Jack Welch, who I introduced you to at the beginning of this article, would be shaking his head in disbelief at the disconnect between what is going on in some state legislatures around the country and the communities they serve. 

The North Carolina legislature just eliminated the North Carolina solar tax credit, in spite of the fact that every dollar in state tax credit generated $1.53 in new local tax revenue, while creating jobs, reducing pollution and slowing climate change.[9]

To see the sources of facts used in this article, request a speech, or learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.


[1] http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3

[2] http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

[3] https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/utility-scale-solar-2014

[4] Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2015/08/12/solar-prices-fell-2015/

[5] http://www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1359489/us-wind-prices-fall-66-record-low

[6] http://www.oilandgas360.com/2015-coal-v-natural-gas/

[7] https://mysunshare.com/2015/07/adams-12-schools-to-benefit-from-solar-share-program/

[8] http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/us-community-solar-market-to-grow-fivefold-in-2015-top-500-mw-in-2020

[9] http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/energy/2015/09/republican-budget-compromise-to-sound-death-knell.html

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