U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

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August 27, 2012
Q.

If the local government entities will not take the initiative to organize and execute Solar Initiatives is there any technical support or guidance available for a qualified consortium of community development organizations wanting to implement solar solutions? - Robin

A.

Over the past several years community-based, non-profit organizations have successfully been used to spur the adoption of solar energy in the communities they serve. One example is the Community Shared Solar model. These programs differ from the traditional “single-system, single-beneficiary” model typified by residential rooftop solar energy systems in that they involve a large, single system with multiple beneficiaries. In a community shared solar program, participants own or lease “blocks”, discrete amounts of system capacity, and receive benefits from the system commensurate with their level of investment. The SunShot initiative sponsored the development of a guide entitled A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, and Nonprofit Project Development that provides a more in-depth overview of the three models in the subtitle. The Guide introduces the different means by which project benefits can be distributed, and provides a starting point for identifying incentives, tax issues, and securities compliance concerns that may (or may not) have a significant impact on the success of any project you may ultimately propose. The guide also provides a number of case studies illustrating how all these elements have come together in real-world projects; additional case studies can be found in the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities. Additional guidance is available in the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s Community Renewables: Model Program Rules.

Another type of program that has been gaining popularity and that your consortium may wish to pursue is a community-led, group purchasing initiative popularly referred to as a Solarize Campaign. Though these programs vary in their particularities, there are some key elements generally common to most of these programs. In a Solarize campaign, a community-based organization (or in some cases, a local government) competitively selects a solar installation contractor to install solar energy systems on a large number of residences in exchange for a volume discount on the systems purchased through the program. In addition, community organizations organize and coordinate campaign volunteer efforts and leverage their role as a trusted messenger to effectively deliver program outreach materials and educational workshops. Program design is typically done in coordination with a solar technical expert, who also assists the project manager with contractor selection and program implementation. Additionally, local solar industry associations can provide additional program support. For a more thorough discussion of these programs, including case studies and program planning guidance, please see The Solarize Guidebook: A Community Guide to Collective Purchasing of Residential PV Systems.

Neither of these types of programs necessitates the participation of local government; however, it is always preferable that local governments are involved as they might be able to institute a streamlined permitting process or provide access to financing.

Thanks for your question. Best of luck.

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