Community Solar Plants

Community Solar Plants (CSPs) bring solar to neighborhoods. Your utility has likely done a great job of providing solar incentives to homeowners. Now, instead of your customers owning individual systems, citizens, local businesses, corporate leaders and others, even those without a suitable roof, sunshine or ownership of a building, are able to invest in a green power future, thanks to collective investments. Community Solar Plants are also an affordable way for your customers to go solar. Everyone can “buy a piece of the rock,” photovoltaic panels and dedicated capacity. They combine their panels with others in a community system, just like a community garden.

Today, Community Solar Plants are poised to provide a win-win-win for consumers, communities, and utilities. Consumers have access to local solar production; cities and counties aggregate, promote and achieve their climate protection goals; and utilities not only serve their customers with a new product offering, but provide green services whose fees are recovered directly from participants without utility capital investment. Analysis suggests that CSPs can be more cost effective for utilities than net metering solar, given lower unit and transaction costs as well as more reliable long-term clean power production.

Two CSP models of scale are presented:

One is based on subscriptions for green power, the other based on ownership.

This White Paper provides a review of community solar plants, starting with their evolution from initial “solar gardens.” It presents the robust set of benefits that community solar plants provide for electric utilities, municipal, cooperative, and investor-owned. Two predominant models are presented from working plants in California and Colorado. One is based on subscriptions; the other on direct consumer ownership. The paper concludes with design options for utilities interested in developing CSP activities, drawing lessons learned from the roughly dozen plants that have pioneered the concept.