La Plata Electric Association is taking applications from those interested in developing up to 2 megawatts of local community solar gardens. It is a great step forward.
A community solar garden is a solar-electricity generating station or array that individual homeowners, businesses or even renters subscribe to or own.
Because the array is tied into the local electric grid, it can be located in a place with excellent solar exposure and provide power to homes and buildings either without good rooftops for solar or that have mountains, trees or other obstructions that make solar a poor option. Also, because of the economies of scale, a solar garden can be cheaper for many people than an individual solar system.
LPEA is looking at having several solar gardens, ranging in size from 50kW to 500kW. These would serve 20 to a few hundred homes. Ideally, there would be gardens sprinkled around LPEA’s service area. San Miguel Power Association has one 1 megawatt community solar garden in the Paradox Valley.
If my wife and I decide to subscribe to a solar garden, we would “buy” enough solar panels or shares – depending upon how the specific solar garden is set up – to generate up to 120 percent of our annual use.
In the months when we don’t use all the energy “our” panels generate, we are credited with the excess. In the months when we use more, we can then use that credit. Once a year, the balance is zeroed out, with LPEA buying up to 20 percent of excess per “owner.”
Because the panels are not tied to a specific house, even renters can choose to participate. Also, if you move from one home to another, your panels don’t need to move, the shares move with your LPEA account.
One aspect of the program is a bit problematic. For people interested in developing a garden, the applications are due at the end of December, and 50 percent of the proposed shares must be spoken for by that time.
Unfortunately, many of us who may be interested don’t know who these developers are or have any way of comparing the various gardens that may be developed. This is a problem for some of the developers as well.
I hope LPEA can craft a way that customers can show serious interest without having to commit to any particular developer. That way, LPEA will know how much interest there is, can evaluate the various proposals from developers and then, when the gardens are set to move ahead, let customers know how to buy into a garden.
In an attempt to assist, we have a generic statement of interest on our website, www.sanjuancitizens.org. We hope LPEA will be able to use these and that the full 2 megawatts of solar gardens are up and running next year.
Community solar gardens are an excellent way for many people to buy local renewably generated electricity.
Let’s hope this program is a success.
email@example.com. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.