Q&A with Howie Michaelson, Catamount Solar
What is community or neighborhood solar?
There are several ways to invest in and reap the benefits of a solar energy project. One way that is gaining in popularity is something often referred to as community solar. These are projects which produce larger quantities of power that gets divided into “shares” to be credited toward the individual members’ electric bills (in the form of group net metering). Put together by either an existing non-profit organization interested in energy issues, or a new organization specifically developed to encourage and oversee a solar “farm,” these projects allow individuals and businesses that haven’t chosen to develop their own mini power plant on their residence or commercial property perhaps due to physical or logistical constraints. It also allows the larger project to leverage the significant economies of scale that currently exist in solar project development, thereby improving financial returns on investment. There are several community solar initiatives actively organizing and developing solar projects around the state, and more popping up regularly.
Community solar projects are outgrowths of smaller neighborhood “group net metered” projects that are also increasing in numbers around Vermont. These smaller projects often involve 2 to 3 (or more) residences who share a common goal of off-setting their electric consumption with their own solar power generation for financial and/or environmental benefits. These type of projects take less logistical planning to develop because of the much smaller scale, and possibly allow the owners a more direct connection with the project development and implementation because of the smaller scale. While the economies of scale are smaller than the larger community solar projects, they are still noticeably better than projects developed for individual residences or small businesses. These projects are most often developed by immediate neighbors which allows all involved a direct physical connection to the project, but can be organized for any group that share the same electric utility.
What are the pros and cons of community or neighborhood solar?
The most obvious advantages of such joint projects are usually better financial returns that they afford, while also allowing individuals or businesses that don’t have an optimal solar site to still participate in an advantageous solar generation project. Perhaps somewhat less obvious are the benefits that come with developing neighborhood or community wide projects which fall into the realm of social benefits. Working together toward a common goal strengthens bonds between small and large groups of people that is often sorely lacking in or modern world. The process of working out the details and developing a structure for joint ownership allows us to make connections in ways we don’t often have a chance to do with our neighbors.
A possible down side to these projects can come from the same process. If a project is not developed with care and thoughtfulness, it leaves open the possibility of misunderstandings or interpersonal aggravations. Also for some, the desire to have complete control over the project, without the needed effort to work out the group details is worth the potentially lower returns on investment. Obviously, these are highly personal evaluations that everyone involved needs to make for themselves.
Howie Michaelson (who has lived in a solar, off-grid home for 14 years) answers solar related questions in a simple, clear fashion. Submit your questions to G.E.T.or firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in future editions!