This year could be a tremendous year for community solar system development. “The biggest trend for solar at utilities is community solar,” says Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) Senior Research Manager Becky Campbell, co-author of the report “Expanding Solar Access Through Utility-led Community Solar.”
Community solar is a shared renewable program that allows co-op members to share the benefits of a solar system at a reduced cost and without some of the installation and maintenance headaches of installing an individual system. It also offers flexibility in the amount of investment a member makes based on the number of panels purchased or leased.
The reality is not all residential rooftops are suitable for solar installations. Some communities may not allow them and some homeowners may not like the look. Renters also don’t have the option of installing a solar system. Community solar systems or “solar farms” create some economies of scale, financial flexibility and the opportunity for optimum installation location choices and professional monitoring and maintenance. Recently the SEPA counted 58 community solar programs in 22 states. That number may already be out of date.
Leading the charge in Illinois was Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative, Winchester, installing the first 500 kilowatt solar facility in 2013. Combined with its wind turbine, the co-op will have renewable resources equal to more than 14 percent of the co-op’s peak demand.
Now Jo-Carroll Energy, Elizabeth, is the latest to announce the completion of a community solar project. Pictured here are some of the 456 solar panels. Each panel has a capacity of 275 watts. Members can buy a panel and energy output will be credited to the member’s bill. You can view the solar farms output from the co-op’s website www.jocarroll.com, click on South View Solar Farm and then the link in the picture of the solar system that says “Check out South View Solar Farm’s output.”