Sunlight falls almost anywhere, in every community. So it would make sense for any number of people in that community to team up to harness the sun and make clean, local power.
Sadly, it isn't as easy as it should be, as illustrated by the Vashon Community Solar Project in Washington State.
The Vashon project is being organized by a local nonprofit called the Backbone Campaign, with a history of tackling tough issues. But the unfortunate barriers to community-based solar are challenging even this dynamic nonprofit.
The proposed project is a small commercial scale (50-66 kW) solar array located at a recycling transfer station, with electricity generation reducing bills for King County and the state’s production incentive accruing to local investors. The project wouldn’t happen without Washington’s community solar production incentive, worth $1.08 per kWh (for community-owned projects with Washington-made solar modules, located on public property).
Prospective investors are forecast to make about $135 per year off their $1000 invested, enough to come out ahead by about $75 by the time the state’s incentive expires in 2020. At that point, the project may be sold to King County, a third party (that may lease the system to the county), or donated to the county or a nonprofit organization. Any of these options would result in some recompense for investors.
Some interesting twists for the project:
Despite the challenges, community solar can solve a lot of problems if it succeeds. It lets individuals without a suitable roofspace for solar (75% of Americans) participate in clean, local power. It lowers the cost by achieving economies of scale. And it can support the local economy, by stopping up "equity leaks" as energy dollars flow out.
But Vashon community solar project shows — like the other projects featured in our 2010 report — that too often community solar only succeeds against the odds.
Lead image: Easy and hard signs via Shutterstocks
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