Xcel Energy has launched an initiative called Solar*Rewards Community in Colorado, which will enable residential and business customers to buy access to solar power without the need to install PV panels on their homes and businesses. The program will also make it possible for customers who have no choice – those without access to the required amount of direct sunlight necessary to power solar panels, as well as those leasing properties, renting, or living in apartment buildings – to invest in solar power and see returns on that investment.
To participate, Colorado customers will subscribe to access by buying or leasing interest in a solar garden located in their community, built by a solar provider, and managed by a separate subscriber organization. REC Solar has been contracted to build four 500kW solar systems and Clean Energy Collective (CEC) will manage subscriptions for the Xcel Energy pilot program. At the end of each monthly billing cycle, customers who subscribe to Solar*Rewards will get a “production credit” on their bill that’s equivalent to their share of the amount of solar energy produced, minus a fee for delivery.
Initial response to the community solar program was so overwhelming that in a matter of minutes, all available slots for the pilot project were booked. Within a half hour, Xcel Energy had received applications in excess of three times the number of available slots. This response comes as little surprise to Andy Noel, Director of Utility Business Development with REC Solar.
“We see every day the amount of residential homeowners who can’t put solar on their roof for one reason or another,” Noel says. “Either they don’t own their home, their roof is bad, or they have big trees all around their home. This project opens up the ability for a much greater part of the population to benefit from the values that we know solar can provide, but that very few of the population can participate in. This puts that out there for the masses.”
Paul Spencer, founder and CEO of Clean Energy Collective, indicates that what’s taking place in Colorado is only the start of a growing trend in utility companies providing access to solar power for customers in various locations throughout the country. “CEC is in the process, with partners such as REC Solar, of talking to about 70 utilities from coast to coast and many spots in between. I’m confident you’ll start to see community solar popping up in a lot more spots in the not too distant future.”
With as much as 80 percent of the country’s population lacking the ability to access solar power due to physical challenges and geographic limitations, this initiative serves as a reminder that there are alternative paths available to achieving renewable energy.
“It’s an opportunity for the public as well as the solar community to realize that the solar universe is potentially six times larger than what they thought it was,” Spencer says. “It’s kind of like the old days of exploration, with Columbus discovering a whole new world. It’s that kind of revelation. I think it’s great for the public because they get access, but also great for the country’s strides towards clean energy. Now you have six times as many people that can actually help be a part of that solution, which is tremendous. I do think that community solar unlocks all that potential, which is extremely exciting.”
One of the first steps to unlocking that potential is for utility companies to learn that community solar can be achieved without facing impossible hurdles. “It doesn’t take legislation to make community solar work,” Noel says. “Legislation can strongly support it, but it’s not necessarily required. I think some utilities believe they can’t offer community solar because they don’t have the legislation in place to do so.”
According to Noel, construction of the solar arrays is set to begin toward the end of 2012 and should be completed within the first quarter of 2013. After that, it won’t be long before Xcel Energy customers will begin to see credits on their monthly utility statements.
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