Where are the best places for community solar gardens?

We recently wrote a blog explaining what a solar garden is (think of a smaller-scale solar farm that serves the needs of local residents) but almost as important: Where are these gardens?


Big picture: Today, sixteen states have enacted legislation enabling community solar projects: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington DC. New Mexico and Virginia are also considering similar laws. Also called “virtual net metering laws,” this legislation allows households to benefit from solar that is located somewhere in their area, and not on their own rooftop.


One ideal site for a community solar garden is on a capped landfill. Because the land is contaminated, many kinds of development are prohibited, and farming is out of the question. This option is attractive for towns who would like to increase their revenue, but don’t want to put solar panels on valuable land that could be better used for farming, development, or conservation. The Dover Solar Garden in Dover, MA sits atop a capped landfill next to the town’s transfer station, and is one of Solstice’s most recent projects.

RELATED: just how does community solar work?


Superfund sites are locations that have been polluted by hazardous waste, and have been identified by the EPA for cleanup. Just like capped landfills, they are unusable for most purposes. One example is Groveland Wells, in Massachusetts. A facility producing plastic and metal parts had been located there, but it was identified as a superfund site in 1982 after it was discovered that the company running it had failed to properly dispose of its toxic waste. Cleanup by the EPA began in 2000 and concluded in 2014. Now, the site hosts a 3.6 MW solar array, which powers 525 local homes.


Some farmers are offering their excess land for community solar projects, providing them with a consistent and relatively risk-free source of supplemental income. They receive a fair market price for leasing out their land, and electricity is sold either to a predetermined group of residents through a subscription model or sold directly to the utility.


One of the pioneering community solar projects was Clean Energy Collective’s 78 kW Mid-Valley Solar Array in western Colorado. The half-acre site was leased from the Mid Valley Metropolitan District, providing revenues to the town and clean energy to eighteen off-taker households. When it was turned on in 2011, this community solar project was the first of its kind in the nation, and paved the way for increasingly large projects. This land wasn’t being used for any other purposes, and by transforming it into a community solar garden, multiple stakeholders (including the solar developer, residents and municipality) were able to reap the benefits.


Houses of worship participate in community solar both as hosts of the solar panels themselves, and as spaces where congregants can organize to advocate for shared solar. In the case of the University Park Community Solar project, a group of private individuals invested in a small solar garden sited atop a local church. The investors benefitted by selling the panels’ electricity back to the church, while the church received a discount.

Solstice’s work with the First Parish Unitarian Church in Bridgewater, MA is an example of congregational participation in an off-site solar garden. Because the church was a historical building, it could not host the panels on its own rooftop. Instead, Solstice partnered with them to enroll the church, as well as a group of its congregants, in a local community solar garden. The First Parish Unitarian Church has always been dedicated to protecting the environment, and Solstice provided them with a way to put their values into practice with community solar.


These are some of the most common ways that a solar garden can manifest, but people all over the country are getting creative in finding new ways to host solar arrays - all while creating local jobs and lowering our carbon footprint.