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In the United States, many communities are turning to community solar plants to power their homes and businesses using the rooftops of public buildings. In Edmonds, Washington, for example, residents pooled their resources to take advantage of state and federal renewable energy incentives for establishing a renewable energy system on the roof of a local municipal building. Powered by the sun, the photovoltaic system generates power and some monetary return to members of the cooperative. The system is being built in phases, designed to grow to a 60kW array. Phase 2 fundraising closes 4 May 2012, so that design, engineering, permitting and installation can happen in the summer of 2012. All panels and inverters are made in Washington State, and cooperative members are Washington State individuals, organizations or corporations. Chris Herman, board chair, and Carlo Voli, board member of the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative write about the group’s successful efforts below. (Scroll to bottom for additional resources on community solar)
By Chris Herman and Carlo Voli
Our sun is 4.5 billion years old, without a power outage or a rate increase and in the Pacific Northwest, whenever there is a “solar spill” we call it a “nice day.” Using it more is part of most Americans’ energy agenda. But there are many in our region who have a shady roof, segmented, or facing the wrong way, or who rent their home or apartment. Or maybe they’d love to support the expansion of solar energy use, but don’t have $20,000 to put into their home right now. There is a great solution for these situations: Community Solar.
The community solar law passed in 2009 in Washington State gives double state production incentives for community solar projects. To be classified as a community solar project the funds have to come from the community and the solar system has to be built on a municipal, special purpose district or county building.
Community Solar projects are beginning to spring up in a lot of cities in our region such as Ellensburg, Seattle, Bainbridge, Bellevue, Olympia, Edmonds, and others. And they are a great option for many more people because they can get into solar with a lot less of an upfront investment, pool their financial resources with others in their community or region, and build sizable solar systems together. In countries like Germany, this has been going on for quite a number of years and there are even small utility companies that are owned by large groups of common citizens. The generous State and Federal incentives in Germany have resulted in Germany now being the country with the most residential solar capacity in the world. And the interesting thing is that Germany actually gets less sun on an annual basis than Seattle.
A great example of a community solar project in the Puget Sound region that has already been successfully established and continues to grow is the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative. This solar co-op was formed in December 2010 and by August 2011 had built a 4.2-kilowatt solar system on the roof of the Frances Anderson Cultural Center in downtown Edmonds with the participation of 37 co-op members, who are mostly individual Washington state residents, including the president of the Edmonds City Council (who will donate any profits) and many other civic-minded citizens. Members also include businesses and organizations such as PCC Natural Markets and the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church.
The co-op members are not in it just for the money, though. The major motivator for most members is to do something good with their money. Clean renewable energy, locally-produced with locally-manufactured equipment and installed by a local company, is a much more attractive option than leaving money in a big bank that does who knows what with it and pays almost nothing for the use. “This is something positive we can do with our money that helps us, the city, the state and our planet” said one prominent co-op member.
The Edmonds Community Solar Co-op is using locally-manufactured solar equipment that stimulates our state’s economy and is selling the power to the City of Edmonds at a 40-percent discount, which helps them in tight financial times.
The co-op is now gearing up for installation of its Phase 2 system in late spring, in time for the long sunny summer days. Any Washington state resident can buy shares of the co-op, called SunSlices, and May 4 is the last day to get them. The co-op now has 62 members from all over the region, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish and the vice president of Plug-in America, among others. Several people even bought SunSlices as gifts for their children and grandchildren to show their “eco-love” and provide ongoing income. A limit of 40 SunSlices per owner has been set in order to stay within the income limits of the state incentive.
People, planet and profit are the triple bottom lines that responsible businesses strive for, and the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative is well on the way to achieving these.
This is just one example of several community solar projects happening in our region and is a sign of the times as we move forward and beyond such a huge dependence on fossil fuels and conventional sources for our energy needs.
Edmond’s Frances Anderson Center Solar Project
The Frances Anderson Center Solar Project ("Project") is a project of Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative. The purpose of the Program is to:
• Provide discounted electricity to the Frances Anderson Community Center thru 6/30/2020, and potentially for many more years if the City of Edmonds desires.
• Provide a way for the community surrounding the Community Center to support the transition to clean energy.
• Educate the Edmonds community about solar energy.
• Earn State of Washington Solar Production Incentives, and provide cash rewards up to the SunSlice™ buyer's original purchase amount.
• Provide the Co-Op with the potential ability to direct future local clean energy benefits out of surplus funds at the end of the contract period.
How the program works
Members directly support the installation of solar panels at Frances Anderson Community Center with their dollars. Each $1,000 of solar power capacity installed at the Center is called a SunSlice™. Members of the Program are entitled to the following benefits:
• Your name promoted with the solar array you are supporting.
• The ability to track the energy production of the solar power system you're supporting.
• Annual rewards - each year for the entire membership period, the Program will provide each member cash rewards for each SunSlice™ you own, supported by green energy production made possible by your SunSlice purchase. (e.g. A Member buys a Cooperative Membership for $25 and a SunSlicetm for $1,000 and receives $1,000 back - PLUS they own part of solar power system in their community. Member rewards are paid annually now thru 2020, funded by sale of power to City of Edmonds and by available incentives.)
Anyone may join the Co-op but only cooperative members living in the state of Washington may purchase SunSlices™, and be eligible for all the incentives available. A member of the Cooperative may be an individual, a group of individuals, or an entity, such as a corporation or nonprofit organization.
The Edmonds project was installed by Sunergy Systems, a Washington State supplier.
For more information on community power in the US, join the Community Power Network USA.