'Shared solar' has potential for huge payback.
Jo Rodgers and Ted Purdy had long thought about installing a solar system on their carport roof, but the price just wasn't right until last year. After a site assessment from a local installer, they were disappointed to learn that even with the recent fall in prices for solar power equipment, their roof catches too much afternoon shade for the installation to make sense.
Jo and Ted are not alone: Hundreds of interested residents and businesses in Eugene can't install solar because they rent their property, live in the shade, need roof repairs, or lack the upfront financing for an entire system. More still are dissuaded from installing because they lack the tax liability needed to capture the federal and state incentives.
Given these circumstances, a new approach is needed to maximize the potential for distributed solar power, which is desperately needed to combat climate change and rising electricity prices.
One piece of the solution is community-shared solar.
What is community-shared solar? These are off-site solar electric systems owned by individuals and businesses that purchase participation in exchange for financial benefits or credited electricity. Because such projects make solar power accessible to customers who are otherwise unable to invest in solar, they present the possibility for dramatic increases in solar electric generation.
Along with more generation comes the creation and retention of jobs in the solar industry.
Community-shared solar also has the potential to reduce the inequity of the current solar incentive structure and reach under-served populations. Taxpayers and ratepayers typically fund incentives for solar installations, but these incentives are generally available only to those who are able to install on their own property and who have a tax liability. Community-shared solar increases social equity by making financial incentives accessible to a broader swath of the community, including those who cannot typically participate.
The Resource Innovation Group is spearheading an effort involving numerous stakeholders to develop the Common Good Solar project: a first-of-its-kind central, shared local solar system that would be available to Eugene Water & Electric Board customers regardless of whether they own or rent, live in the shade or sun, can pay for an entire solar array, or can capture available incentives.
Interested customers would pay for participation upfront and then receive bill credits or a check for the electricity generated by "their portion" of the system. (See the full proposal at www.eweb.org/greenpower/grant/2013.)
Participation in Common Good Solar would cost a few hundred to several thousand dollars, allowing households to pay just what they desire and can afford or to pay enough to maximize the amount of their own electricity use they are offsetting with solar. Thanks to EWEB's willingness to provide the roof space, the 40- to 100-kilowatt solar electric system would be housed on solar-ready awnings at EWEB's Roosevelt Operations Facility. The goal is for participants to get their full initial contribution back in dollars or in kilowatt-hour credits over the life of the project.
The construction of Common Good Solar would showcase Eugene as a forward-thinking national leader in renewable energy. It would also provide a much-needed model for the development of community-shared solar projects that can be replicated in Eugene and throughout Oregon and even the nation. In doing so it would increase locally generated, renewable energy here in Eugene.
TRIG has honed in on strategies for overcoming common obstacles and has participation in project development from the Oregon Department of Energy and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, among others that see this project as bound for success.
Additional funding will be needed to make this vision a reality. One possibility is a grant from EWEB's Greenpower program. EWEB customers who are registered participants in the program will be voting for their favorites among proposals competing for a $100,000 Greenpower grant. People interested in supporting any of the proposals must register for the Greenpower program at www.eweb.org/greenpower by March 29 and vote by April 15.
Sarah Mazze is program manager for The Resource Innovation Group, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Center for Sustainable Communities at Willamette University.