Community groups in Pennsylvania's Wayne County have joined to install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system at the historic Cooperage building in Honesdale. The 90 solar panels Clean Energy Cooperative and The Cooperage Project members installed on the 155-year-old Main Street building's roof will produce 27-kW of emissions-free electricity, enough to meet 100 percent of the electricity used by tenants, which include a non-profit community center, Wayne Independent reports.
Though small in terms of kilowatts, the project adds momentum to a fast growing community solar movement in the U.S. GTM Research predicted the market would grow five-fold in 2015 and expand at an average 59 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2015 and 2020.
Revitalizing local communities
The $72,000 Cooperage project in Honesdale took two years to from start to finish, a joint effort that included raising capital from 23 co-op members and a USDA Renewable Energy for America (REAP) grant. A local contractor took care of the actual installation and local utility PPL approved the system.
The Cooperage project is the first of what Clean Energy Cooperative expects will be a long line of community solar installations. Coop leaders are currently searching for new host sites that meet the following criteria:
- are non-profit, or community-oriented (e.g. medical, theater, church, educational, or supporting low or moderate income families, etc.)
- own a local building with significant annual energy usage (if you rent, then we'd need the landlord to be as involved and committed too)
- for a solar project: have an unshaded, and flat or south-facing roof where a solar system could be mounted, or
- for a renovation project: will save enough money (usually from reduced energy bills) to have an immediate positive cash flow, and
- is committed to our community for the long-term, as well as to energy savings and conservation
Adding to the attractiveness and benefits of producing emissions-free electricity locally, Clean Energy Coop PV systems do not require any up-front cash payments. They're paid off over 25 years, which matches the standard expected lifetime of PV systems.
With zero in the way of fuel costs, PV systems also significantly reduce end-users' exposure to utility rate hikes and volatility of fuel costs. In some cases, end-users may wind up lowering their utility electric bills to zero.
Full steam ahead
More broadly, one or more community solar projects had been completed in 24 states as of mid-2015, according to GTM's "U.S. Community Solar Outlook 2015-2020." In addition, community solar legislation is under consideration in 20 state legislatures.
The majority (over 80%) of community solar projects over the next two years will occur in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota – states in which governments have opened up power markets to community solar by enacting capped or uncapped community solar programs.
Community solar broadens access to enabling renters and rental property owners to tap into emissions-free solar power. Significantly, it also gives utilities a stake in promoting growth.
Commenting on GTM's forecast, Senior Solar Analyst Cory Honeyman said:
“Looking ahead to 2020, the community solar opportunity is poised to become more geographically diversified, as developers ramp up service offerings to utilities in states without community solar legislation in place and as national rooftop solar companies enter the community solar scene.”
Twenty-five states had at least one community solar project online as of early this year, according to the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Ninety-one projects and 102 MW had been installed. Looking ahead, GTM expects 1.8 gigawatts (GW) of community solar power capacity will come online in the U.S. over the next five years. That compares to just 66 MW through year-end 2014.
*Image credits: 1) Clean Energy Cooperative, The Cooperage Project; 2) GTM Research