The house in which I grew up sat on a narrow plot of land – only 15 feet separated us from the neighbor’s home. Consequently, my mother didn’t have much room to grow produce in a garden. She wanted more than three tomato plants, so for one summer in the mid-70s she took part in a community garden. Dozens of other local homeowners faced similar space restraints and joined her in the pursuit of fresh vegetables.
Fast forward more than 30 years later. Another kind of community garden is on the horizon but instead of growing squash and bell peppers, residents are getting together to harness the sun’s power. These new public endeavors are called Community Solar Gardens (CSG) and here’s how they work: A developer or subscriber organization will build a “solar garden” and then will sell or lease “shares” of the garden to residential customers or businesses who will receive credit on their electric bills for purchasing solar power.
These CSGs are ideal for people who want to harness the power of the sun for energy but can’t because a) they rent; b) their house is covered in shade; or c) they simply choose not to install a solar system on their home.
Last year, Colorado’s legislature passed the first state law to create these CSGs. It’s a win-win for all: Solar is made available to more people, customers can get an energy credit on their bill, developers have a new way to earn money on solar and everyone is using more renewables.
“For the first time, low-income homeowners and renters will be able to go solar,” writes Joy Hughes on her Solar Gardens website. “We’ll put the first facilities on libraries, schools and hospitals so these institutions can benefit. Solar gardens are sprouting up everywhere!”
So far, the CSG idea is small. There are only four utilities currently with SCG initiatives:
- Holy Cross announced a solar garden with Clean Energy Collective in western Colorado and has installed an 80 KW system with plans to build more.
- Sacramento (California) Municipal Utilities District has a 1 MW solar community. It was announced in 2010 and sold out in six months.
- United Power (in northern Colorado) installed a 10 KW system in 2010.
- Xcel Energy has plans to acquire up to 6 MW of power as part of its Solar*Rewards Community by the end of 2011, plus another 6 MW in each of the next two years.
It may be starting out small but it seems to have big potential. You could say the future of solar gardens, pun intended, looks bright.
Article by Dan Hauser, appearing courtesy Xcel Energy Blog.