Solar Gardens Pose as a More Attainable Alternative to the Installation of Solar Panels

home_panelThe Clean Energy Initiative:  A few months back we discussed “The Solar Boom in California” and the growing popularity of solar panels in California.  While there are plenty of people out there excited at the thought of solar panels, there is a huge dilemma – there are homes out there that get too much shade to make solar panels function properly, other homes containing roofs that aren’t big enough for solar panels to even be worth it, and then there are renters who don’t even own their roofs, but all of these groups still do wish to save money on their utility bills.  Some homeowners are simply unwilling to install the equipment on their homes for fear of creating an unsightly scene in their neighborhood.  However, a project that was pioneered by the environmentally conscious people of Colorado offers an alternative for residents who can’t install solar panels themselves, and the idea has spread throughout the United States rapidly.  Introducing…solar gardens.

Solar gardens are the answer for those unable or unwilling to have solar panels on their own home.  Money Talks News reported that a solar garden project in Colorado Springs, CO was a huge hit before the project had even come to a start.  The venture will eventually serve as the nation’s largest solar garden, including over 10,000 panels – enough to power 500 homes.  Other states, including California and Massachusetts have followed Colorado’s lead.

The New York Times details how solar gardens are currently opening up new markets, “For developers, such shared or community solar arrays create a new market from the estimated 85 percent of residential customers who can neither own nor lease systems because their roofs are physically unsuitable for solar or because they do not control them — like renters and people living in large apartment buildings. And for those customers, it offers a way into the solar boom, whether they seek to contribute to the spread of clean energy or to reap the potential cost savings”.  The solar gardens are a great method to get those who cannot install solar panels on their own property into the marketplace.  Before the innovation of solar gardens, all of these people were blocked out of the market.

Solar gardens are ‘solar farms’, or a cluster of solar panels created by a developer.  They can range from a few dozen of panels on a rooftop to thousands sitting on more than 100 acres of land according to The New York Times.  A portion of the farm’s electrical output is sold to each customer depending on how much power they need or as much as they can afford.  Typically, a portion of a solar farm runs anywhere between $500 and $1,400 per panel.  People who purchase portions of these solar panels are referred to as ‘ratepayers’.  Ratepayers are allowed plenty of flexibility in how much of their current energy costs they would like to have offset by the solar power generated by the panel whether that be 10%, 20%, or 100% of the total electricity bill.  Enterprise News contends, “the amount of energy the panels produce for the grid are metered reducing and a ratepayer’s bill is reduced by the exact amount that their panels are creating”, meaning that ratepayers are not getting shortchanged for other overhead costs associated with the solar garden such as installation or maintenance.  Ratepayers receive a credit for the energy created by their portion of the garden deducted from the energy portion of their electricity bills.

In order to reap the benefits of a solar garden, it is necessary that the ratepayer live in close enough proximity to it or at least within the boundaries of the utility service provider.  Ratepayers may also pay to have the panels situated in an optimal area that maximizes the amount of energy that it generates.  These rates are generally higher as in these positions the panels produce more energy.  Regardless of how much is spent on the portion of the solar garden, ratepayers generally observe a decent return on investment.  Money Talks News maintains that the ratepayer experiences a 7%-10% return on investment in a solar garden on top of becoming eligible for renewable energy credits offered by the state.  The government, both state and federal provides incentives for participants in solar garden endeavors.  “The combination of plummeting prices for solar equipment and installation and generous federal and state incentives has widened their appeal. The Energy Department is encouraging their spread, publishing a guide to best practices in 2010, and is weighing proposals to award $15 million in grants to help design community projects” (The New York Times).

To many, solar panels, whether they are installed on ones own roof or in a solar garden, are an expensive up front investment, but down the line they are worth it, both from a financial stand point and from an environmentally sustainable stand point.  Solar panels create a pathway for the transition of using renewable energy instead of by burning harmful fossil fuels into the atmosphere.  The return on investment is significant for the ratepayer and for the earth as ratepayers are taking the initiative to contribute and change the way that energy in this world is being produced and subsequently the effect that it has on the environment.  Years down the line, the process might become so streamlined that it lowers costs on a larger scale than it already presents.  Currently, many costs have already been slashed due to the growing popularity of solar energy utilization.  For those who are interested in using solar energy but unable to install the panels on their own homes, solar gardens are certainly worth looking into as they present a more affordable alternative to individual solar panels.  Solar gardens empower residents to do away with traditional utility options and harness the benefits of solar energy away from the home and without the hassle of a costly installation on ones property.

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