EME 810
Solar Resource Assessment and Economics

9.7 Community Solar

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Reading Assignment

NREL Report: J. Coughlin, J. Grove, L. Irvine, J. F. Jacobs, S. Johnson Phillips, A. Sawyer, and J. Wiedman (2012) "A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, and Nonprofit Project Development" USA DoE National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

  • Read Sections 1 and 2 (pp. 2-32)
  • Scan through Section 3: "Emerging State Policies to Support Community Shared Solar" and Section 7: "Resources"
We are cutting into new territory that is expanding faster than our peers can document it! Community Solar is the hottest thing since the Power Purchase Agreement. So, let's take a closer look at something that may become key feature of sustainable communities in our future.

Models of Community Solar

Our final reading puts a few boundaries around the varieties of "community solar" that appear to be emerging in the USA of late. There are good examples in the document, which will be helpful for our Learning Activity in this lesson.

  1. Utility-Sponsored Model: A utility owns or operates a project that is open to voluntary ratepayer participation.
  2. Special Purpose Entity (SPE) Model: Individuals join in a business enterprise to develop a community shared solar project.
  3. Nonprofit Model: A charitable nonprofit corporation administers a community shared solar project on behalf of donors or members.

While community solar PV is just now emerging onto the market, note that community solar products have been in existence for millennia as shared fields and gardens for produce development and resale. Based on the prior examples from farming, the management of a community resource is well within the scope of SECS expansion.

Community Solar Case Studies

As of 2020, Community Solar is now authorized in 19 states and Washington D.C. There are companies that specialize in community solar that would arrange deals with farmers to lease portions of their land to build solar projects. As this segment of solar industry expands, farmers (and landowners in general) may take advantage of this new revenue stream. In addition to generating local revenue, solar projects help states make progress toward their clean energy and sustainability goals [Gahl, 2020].

Browse through this report to learn about several representative community solar case studies across the country:

SEIA Report: Gahl, D., How Community Solar Supports American Farmers, SEIA, February 2020.

The case studies presented in the report show that typically farms will lease portions of their land to community solar companies for a fixed term at a fixed price. These solar lease payments tend to be higher than those for traditional agricultural operations and are normally based on the state policies, where the project is located. Land leasing for solar often provides farmers with higher and more stable income than that obtained through producing agricultural products, which creates an incentive.