July 31, 2019

Fertile Ground for Community Solar Gardens

Power Mag

Community solar projects, also known as solar farms or solar gardens, are maturing and moving forward. Minnesota leads the nation with 559 MW of capacity on the ground, and other states are following with new policy initiatives.

Community solar is on a roll. Bringing solar photovoltaic power to consumers who, for a variety of reasons, can’t put solar panels on their roofs—apartment dwellers don’t own roofs, many roofs aren’t oriented to catch the sun’s rays, or the roofs are obscured by natural and manmade obstacles—is gaining momentum and attracting investment.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that 1,387-MW of community solar have been installed through 2018. SEIA says, “Shared renewable energy arrangements allow several energy customers to share the benefits of one local renewable energy power plant. The shared renewables project pools investments from multiple members of a community and provides power and/or financial benefits in return.” The terms community solar, solar gardens, and solar farms are interchangeable.

Recent Community Solar Announcements

In June, Hannon Armstrong, a green power investor, and Summit Ridge Energy, a solar power developer, announced a plan to invest in community solar, starting in Maryland’s Prince George’s and Baltimore counties. Both are populous and prosperous suburban markets. With Hannon Armstrong financing, Summit Ridge is looking to build more than 250 MW of community solar over the next few years.

Also in June, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved community solar programs for investor-owned utilities Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and Alliant Energy. MGE plans to build a 5-MW solar garden at a regional airport (Figure 1), 10 times the size of its current community solar installations. Alliant, meanwhile, plans a project where residential customers can buy panels at about $1,200/kW. The utility would pay the owners of the projects 6.3 cents/kWh for the power generated.

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