The Vermont Electric Cooperative's (VEC) Community Solar Garden
By Justin Ko
The VEC's Community Solar Garden in Alburgh, Vermont
Community solar projects alleviates many of the challenges and barriers that consumers, and utility companies confront when it comes to implementing solar energy. It would be fair to assert that community solar projects directly benefits consumers, utility companies, and vested stakeholders. On the side of consumers, community solar gardens lessen the financial, and physical barriers that are traditionally present when it comes to installing rooftop solar PV. Whereas households looking to install rooftop solar PV have to get financing via loans (which requires good financial standing) community solar gardens merely require monthly payments agreed upon over a certain amount years – generally 10 or 20 years.
When it comes to capacity, households participating in community solar projects do not need to have the proper infrastructure in order to benefit. This is because community solar projects are located in large plots of land with numerous solar PV arrays installed for the sole purpose of generating electricity that is sent to the energy grid. Those who participate in community solar receive credit on their monthly electric bills from the electricity that their sponsored solar PV panel generates. This alleviates the physical barriers as households do not need to have suitable rooftops to participate. Instead, households of all types can participate in community solar projects, such as apartments/condos in high density areas that are often leased, not owned, by households.
For utility companies, the benefits largely lay in retaining its customers that would have been lost had households went the route of individual rooftop PV installations. Even more, it is the utility companies that construct the community solar gardens, therefore they are the ones managing the community solar gardens in terms of access, payments, and credits. Financial incentives are further enhanced if the utility company is in an area with incentivized solar energy production (e.g., tax credits).
In the case of Vermont, more specifically the Vermont Electrical Cooperative’s (VEC) community solar garden located in the small town of Alburgh, the community solar garden is incentivized by Vermont’s net metering program, which “allows members to connect small-scale, renewable energy systems to the grid and receive credit on their electric bills,” as illustrated in figure 4 below.
Net Metering in Vermont
The VEC’s community solar garden in Alburgh is the cooperative’s first community solar project, and Vermont’s second community solar project. Launched on October 20, 2016, the Alburgh community solar garden is a 1 megawatt facility that produces 1.57 million kilowatt-hours per year – enough to power more than 150 houses in a year.
As mentioned above, individuals served by the VEC can participate in the community solar garden via 10 year or 20 year sponsorship. The minimum that an individual can sponsor is one panel. How it works is that an individual pays monthly to maintain their sponsorship and in turn receive credits on their monthly electric bills based on the amount of electricity their sponsored panel generates. This method of participating in solar energy production is certainly more accessible than the route of installing independent household solar PV rooftops as it provides ease to the average household looking to transition and utilize renewable, and sustainable energy such as solar.
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