Posted on Friday October 23, 2015
If provided a choice of receiving electricity through renewable or traditional fossil fuel resources, most people would choose to have sustainable, clean energy power their home or workplace. When asked, most people enthusiastically identify solar as their preference. So why don’t we see solar panels on every rooftop? Most people are familiar with solar energy as an alternative to coal-fired generated electricity, but not everyone owns a rooftop or yard space suitable to host an array.Community solar provides everyone the opportunity to access solar energy. These arrays can be built anywhere, typically in a centralized location, allowing renters, condo owners, non-profits, and houses with shaded roofs to participate in the array as individual owners and gain access to solar energy. Community solar is offered through a partnership between a utility and a community. But not every utility or community offers a community solar program. Most programs are spurred by a policy that dictates a utility to incorporate renewable energy sources into their portfolio. And other programs come about as a result of customers requesting their utility provide this choice of clean energy.
Benefiting Everyone in a Community
You want community solar but how do you get a program built in your area? Community solar begins with a utility partnering with a solar developer to build an array, and from there either the utility or the third-party developer maintains ownership and management of the program. The utility provides the service to their customers or members, but not all utilities feel compelled to offer these programs due to development costs or complicated tax and securities issues. However, even with obstacles associated with implementing a program, utilities may respond to the requests of their customers, considering a program simply because they want to offer their customers the services that they want.
Know Your Stuff
The best intentions could have limited results if a supporter starts out asking for community solar with limited knowledge and information. The first step to getting a program located in your community is to know what you are asking for. Read, read, and ask. A great resource for community solar information is the website Community Solar Hub. The Informational Resources section contains in-depth information about successful programs. Read the documents, news articles and case studies that all explain the intricacies of community solar programs. And if you still have questions after reading the information provided on the site, send the Hub an email and ask questions. The Hub is available to you to help you become comfortable with concepts and conversations that swirl around community solar. Become informed just enough to be dangerous.
Now that you have become a community solar expert, it is time to start talking about what you know. Community solar programs start with strong partnerships with utilities, communities, solar developers, and lawmakers. Do a little research to see if your utility has a renewable energy division; if they do, that’s a good sign! In most cases, your goal should be to talk to the highest ranking employee possible. Set a meeting to tell them what you know about community solar and how a program will benefit the community and the utility’s customers. Make it clear, in a friendly way, how you and your neighbors want to have a choice in how your electricity is generated. One meeting may only be for introductions, but at least you are starting a conversation about an important subject. As you wrap up your conversation with the electric utility executive, tell them you will stay in touch and will be updating them on the interest that is generated around a community solar program.
Not only should you reach out to your utility, but start talking to town leaders, too. Our elected officials are here for us and will make time to meet with you if you request a meeting. Call or email your city council officials, state representative or senator. Start at the city or town level and focus on regular community meetings. Attend meetings to get the pulse of the personalities you may be dealing with. When you meet with your legislator, talk to them about how community solar programs benefit the environment by offsetting the use of coal generated energy. Tell them about how solar projects generate jobs locally and save participants, their constituents, money. You may only have as much as a half hour to express everything you want to say about the benefits of community solar, so it’s important that you go into a meeting well organized. Make a list of what you want to say and stick to it. Your representative will appreciate the fact you are organized and respectful of the time spent together.
Throw a Party, Invite Your Neighbors
Get organized within your community by hosting meetings. It’s important to know your audience; local seminars are a great way to see who is interested and to hear what kind of questions they have. There may be solar professionals in your area that could participate in this conversation, but chances are they are experts in rooftop solar but know little about community solar. That is why you need to know your stuff. Start the conversation with people you see on a regular basis. The next time you see your neighbor ask them if they would like to learn about solar that is considered to be “roofless”, or not installed on their roof or property and provides a lifetime of clean energy with zero maintenance. Chat with the parents at your child’s school. Start your meetings small by inviting people you know and live near to participate in the conversation. The great thing about targeting a community solar audience is it could be anyone, not just homeowners who can benefit. Plan your first meeting at your home and invite your neighbors by personal invitation or posting a flyer on their front door. From there, your meetings should grow organically by word of mouth. Your next meetings may require a larger space. Check with your local library or rec center to book your meeting in their community room. Again, get organized. Create a page or a group on social media. Start the conversation and get people involved, get them talking about it and asking for community solar programs.
Get Organized for Results
Truly the best results for change come from a group of people organizing a message with a singular goal. If enough people are asking for the same thing, eventually electric utilities will respond. Here is an example of a successful grassroots campaign. An advocacy group based in northern Colorado organized a door-to-door canvassing effort to talk directly to the citizens of that community about whether or not they would welcome a community solar program. After 2 weeks of door-knocking, the team managed to gather over 400 handwritten letters that were eventually delivered to a town council meeting. These letters all stated that they support and want a community solar program. More importantly, they represented over 400 households of voters and utility customers. That got everyone’s attention and today, the energy providers in the area are considering the feasibility of a community solar program.
To advocate for community solar, you need to become informed, get organized and stay on target. Proponents of change can make a difference. Stay connected with Community Solar Hub, using the centralized location for community solar information and if you need further details or just want to talk out a few ideas, send an email or dial the number that is listed on the site. Register on the site and tell us about your efforts. The Hub was created to provide information and allow other community solar supporters and solar developers to share stories of success. We want to hear from you, look for us on Facebook and Twitter, and more importantly, good luck with your community solar advocate efforts!
Join the campaign to bring community solar to every neighborhood in the nation. Gain access to the tools that will make your projects a success. Share the details of your developments for others to see and repeat your achievements. Contribute to your community by providing the choice of clean and affordable electricity to everyone.