May 15th, 2012 - What is Community Solar? On the surface this sounds like an easy question to answer, and until giving the topic more thought my answer would have simply been: Community Solar is any solar energy project that takes place in a community and involves the community.
I still think this is a good starting point for a definition. However, after taking part in an effort to define “Community Power”, I found that it actually means a lot of different things to different people, and that my preconceptions had shifted a bit by the end of the discussion.
It was led by a new effort called the Community Power Group, a group that stems from the Local Clean Energy Association, that sparked the debate and attempted to define “Community Power” -- an appropriate topic for a group that has “starting community power projects” as one of its core goals.
In the end, the discussion did not actually yield a specific black-and-white definition of what community power is, but an array of elements that play an important part. We decided that community solar (as well as any other type of community power project) has these recommendations:
- Should be in or near an identifiable community.
- Should be owned and controlled by the community through transparent democratic decision making -- or if not owned by the community, the community needs to have control of it.
- Should be locally financed if feasible.
- Should enable participation by low-income communities.
- Should employ a local workforce (using local training programs) for development and maintenance.
- Should employ land use policies that preserve agricultural land and environmentally sensitive habitat.
- Should ideally be flexible enough over time to allow for future enhancements such as residential energy upgrades, electricity storage, smart grids, and other best practices.
An additional element that I would add is: Community power should also better the health of the community through the reduction of dependence on polluting fossil fuels for electricity.
In my opinion not all of the elements above are needed to make a community power project - for example, perhaps a project isn’t locally financed because it is either not possible or not prudent for the community to do so - but the more of these elements a project applies the more it benefits communities and the more is truly a community project
Which of these elements do you think is crucial to creating a “Community Solar Project”?
Written By: Youness Scally, co-founder of Everybody Solar