Community solar resources – starting a project in your community
When individuals work together they can create or support projects that keep more of the benefits within the community. Solar project development and financing can be complex but every shared solar project has some basic components and players.
- People: Who’s going to use the energy from the shared array?
- Location: Where will the array be located?
- Financing: Who’s going to pay for the construction and upkeep?
- Construction: Who will design and build the solar array?
- Operations & Maintenance: Who will maintain the project and operate it for 25 years?
The parties involved
- Subscribers: The people who will use the energy could be individuals, businesses, municipalities, nonprofits, and anyone else with an electric meter account in the same utility territory as the array. Sometimes subscribers are also called “off-takers”.
- Developer(s): The organization(s) that secure a location, find customers, bring together the financing, and build (or sub-contract) the array.
- Subscriber organization: The official entity that operates and maintains the array, interacts with subscribers, and interacts with the utility over the life of the system. This may be the initial developer, a community entity, or another organization that takes over the array after it is built.
- Landholder: The owner of the property where the array is located. They will have a legal arrangement with the owner of the array for the use of the land for 25+ years.
- Utility company: Utilities are responsible for allocating space in the program in their territory, distributing the electricity from the array through their grid, and for applying the appropriate bill credits to each subscriber’s utility bill.
- Public Service Commission (PSC): The PSC monitors the program to ensure it follows regulations. It gathers data to report back to the legislature at the end of the pilot period.
So what does it look like when a community works together? Here are some possibilities:
- Third party-driven, third party financed: The community brings people to a subscriber organization with a project looking for customers. The community negotiates as a group for a discounted rate and/or special contract terms.
- Community-driven, third party financed: The community brings people (and maybe a location) to a developer and negotiates to create a project for the community’s benefit. The developer and/or the developer’s financing partners build, own, and operate the array. The community has some leverage because it finds customers (and possibly a location). This model could allow participants to manage a reduction in electricity costs, special contract provisions, and local labor sourcing. It could also help them include low-and-moderate income customers.
- Community-driven, community-owned: The community brings people, and maybe a location, together while also financing the project. An existing legal entity or new special purpose legal entity owns the array. Community members (individuals and/or organizations) finance the project. The community maintains significant or total control over all aspects of the project. The legal entity that owns the array is responsible for operating it for its lifetime either directly or through subcontracted service providers.
Thinking about starting a project in your community? Contact us at [email protected].