Solar too expensive for your household? Not anymore.

By Christie Young

Since the advent of solar energy, one factor in particular has fueled criticism and prevented even the most enthusiastic would-be solar customers from “going solar”: the upfront cost. Despite the fact that panels ultimately pay for themselves through electric bill savings, high initial costs have historically meant that only a few could afford to install panels on their roof.

History of solar panel technology

 Solar panels are used to power satellites, such as in this photo of the International Space Station solar array (2008).

Solar panels are used to power satellites, such as in this photo of the International Space Station solar array (2008).

The first usable solar panels were invented in the 1950’s, but they weren’t cheap by any standards: a system supplying the same energy as today's average home system would cost $14,000,000 in today's dollars. These first panels were only cost-effective multi-million dollar space programs, as this was virtually the only way to powering satellites and spacecraft.

By the 1970’s, technological advances had dropped the price enough for early adopters to begin installing panels on their rooftops. But solar arrays were still expensive enough to prevent widespread adoption, and it has only been in the last decade that economies of scale and innovations in automation and efficiency of manufacturing have caused prices to plummet within reach of many Americans.

RELATED: What are solar panels made of?

Still, a five-digit upfront cost doesn’t fit the balance sheet of the majority of Americans. And even if you have the credit score to qualify for financing options like leases and loans, you still have to own your home, have an optimal roof, and commit to paying down your panels over a period of years. Only one in five Americans can actually install rooftop panels.

Going solar for free

Community solar gardens are renewable energy for the rest of us, allowing households to sign up for a solar farm in their area. And it’s absolutely free! By doing away with upfront costs, the rooftop installation, and the long-term commitment, we’ve made it that much easier for everyday Americans to go solar. Better yet, families who sign up will see a 10% discount on their electric bill.

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RELATED: Are solar panels really as green as they say?

Sound too good to be true? We hear that a lot. Community solar is free because you’re not buying your panels, you’re subscribing to the electricity they generate. You don’t need to worry about maintaining, cleaning or recycling them, nor paying a steep cost. Our solar developer partners take care of all of that, and you get the credit for supporting local solar energy.

There’s never been a better time to go solar.

 

Want to learn more? Get in touch with us today.

 
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Have a question about solar that we haven't answered? Leave a comment below!

Here’s How Solar Developers Can Maximize Solar’s Positive Impact on the Environment

By Forrest Watkins

For well over a century now, coal- and natural gas-fired power plants have spewed pollution into the air around them. Coal ash and fracking have contaminated groundwater, and coal mining has famously destroyed once-mighty mountains.

Solar energy lifts this burden significantly. In fact, once they’re installed, they are entirely neutral to their surrounding environment. Panel manufacturers use specialized processes to recycle excess manufacturing materials to make sure that they never leave the factory, and some even include an end-of-life recycling plan in the purchase of their panels.

 A community solar garden in Dover, MA, developed by BlueWave, was built on the top of a capped landfill.

A community solar garden in Dover, MA, developed by BlueWave, was built on the top of a capped landfill.

Responsible Development Can Mitigate Any Negative Impacts of Solar Energy

Those of us who know the value of land—both natural and cultivated—know that preservation will always trump restoration. A tract of cleared forest can take several decades to regain the social and economic value of lost biodiversity. Similarly, farmers put great care into maintaining the health of their soil in order to bring you healthy and cost-competitive food.

This same principle is why the solar industry must do its part to preserve rural land and contribute to the communities where these projects are sited. These four principles can ensure that the solar industry has a positive impact on our rural lands and keeps natural habitats intact.

  1. Build solar farms and gardens where we can’t build anything else. There are sites around the country, like capped landfills and superfund sites, where concerns about contamination make it illegal to use the land for other purposes. Where possible, these sites are optimal for solar gardens.

  2. Always build on brownfields. Brownfields are sites that have previously been developed for human use. It doesn’t make environmental sense to destroy ecosystems and fell trees to build solar farms, so they should always be built on brownfields. Encouragingly, states like Massachusetts now have policies that give community solar projects extra compensation to build on brownfields and capped landfills.

  3. Care for the land. Leaving land fallow is a common way to restore soil health. This means that solar plants can have a positive impact on soil health, and this restorative effect of solar plants can be enhanced by putting in soil-restorative plants around the bases of the solar panels, and by allowing animals to graze around the periphery.

  4. Make sure landowners and local communities see the benefits of community solar gardens. Our partner for our most recent New York projects is Delaware River Solar (DRS). Rich Winter, the President and founder of DRS, raises grass-fed cattle in the area—in fact, DRS’s very first project was located on Rich’s own land in Callicoon, NY. Many of the companies’ upcoming projects will be located on the land of other cattle farmers in the area, who have been looking for ways to supplement their income after a recent downturn in dairy prices.

 Our newest solar garden with Delaware River Solar, near Elmira, NY.

Our newest solar garden with Delaware River Solar, near Elmira, NY.

Small farmers and healthy rural communities are key to preserving rural lands—after all, who better to safeguard that land than the people who actually know it? From Massachusetts to Texas, solar has become a way for small farmers to pay down property taxes and keep their farms, preserving the strength local communities and providing clean energy for the region. And community solar gardens have a host of other benefits, bringing jobs to small towns and revenues to local governments and tax districts.

Read More: Solstice and NY Solar Companies Help Local Communities Thrive

The solar industry, by its nature, tends to be made up of people who care about the environment. It’s encouraging to see so many solar companies developing projects with an eye towards preserving the local environment and supporting local communities, and we pledge to do our part in helping this awareness grow.

Manufacturing: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

 
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As we’ve highlighted in the past, there is plenty of misinformation out there that blurs the truth about solar energy. While it’s broadly considered one of the cleanest sources of electricity available, rumors about toxicity and local environmental contamination have caused many Americans to wonder just how solar panels are made.

You don’t have to be an engineer to understand what solar panels are made of and how they’re produced. Learning the basics will help you understand where things can go wrong in solar manufacturing, as well as the measures that legitimate manufacturers take to preserve their local environment.

RELATED: 7 Cons of Solar Energy

Manufacturing: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

At the most basic level, solar panels are mostly composed of silicon, which interacts with the sun to create a flow of electricity. Aluminum or copper wiring gives that electricity a channel to flow out of the panel and into your home (or the grid). Aluminum is also used for the framing. These elements are literally as common as dirt – after oxygen, silicon and aluminum are the two most common materials in the Earth’s crust, making up about a third of all soil.

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In refining natural silicon into its usable form, a compound called silicon tetrachloride is created as a byproduct. This compound is toxic, but using the right equipment, it can be recycled to create more panels. When China experienced a massive and abrupt solar manufacturing boom in the early 2000’s, smaller factories didn’t invest in this equipment, and some dumped the toxic waste into villages and rivers, causing soil infertility and health abnormalities in the local population.

These practices are unacceptable for us, and the solar industry has shown that they agree, because we’ve seen major improvements in manufacturer accountability in the last nine years. The international community has developed a tiered ranking system for just this purpose. Tier 1 manufacturers are generally safe bets, as these large-scale manufacturers put substantial effort into increasing manufacturing efficiency, and byproduct recycling brings them substantial savings in the long-run. Solstice relies on its partners to design and build solar gardens, and those partners only source from Tier 1 companies.

RELATED: What is Community Solar?

The Shift to Net-Zero Starts Today

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We will always seek a world where we can get our energy without consequences for the environment. This means improving manufacturing processes for solar panels, holding companies to account for panel recycling, and making sure that clean energy is used as much as possible in panel shipping and installation.

This is what we can do, today, to start shifting away from the massively harmful energy systems of the past. Today’s solar industry certainly has areas for improvement, where it can further widen the environmental gap between it and the fossil fuel industry. We’re heartened to see solar companies proactively taking those steps – and hopeful for a future of clean energy production.

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Interested in learning more about solar, or have a question we haven't answered?

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Solstice and NY Solar Companies Help Local Communities Thrive

By Forrest Watkins

Seeking to go solar with a local New York solar company? Solstice is a non-profit that helps local community solar developers to fill their solar gardens.

As we’ve written in the past, the Solstice team cares deeply about supporting local communities and helping their economies thrive.

 Solstice team members Taro and Sean visit the DRS solar garden in Lowman, Chemung, NY

Solstice team members Taro and Sean visit the DRS solar garden in Lowman, Chemung, NY

We call both New York and Massachusetts home – we couldn’t be effective in our mission of making affordable solar accessible for every American if we focused only on one area – but we choose to partner with local solar developers and organizations to make these projects happen, and we make sure that our farms provide real, direct support to their local communities.

RELATED: SNOW, SLEET, AND HAIL, OH MY! WHY SOLAR STILL WORKS IN COLDER CLIMATES.

Solstice Builds Strong Community Ties

We take the time to build relationships with the communities where we operate, so we can make sure that our projects truly meet their needs. In recent months, we’ve partnered with Callicoon, NY solar developer Delaware River Solar (DRS), helping them to fill their solar gardens with local households.

DRS was established by Callicoon-area farmer Rich Winter, and its solar gardens are planned for locations around Upstate New York. Our newest project with them is as local as it gets: it was built on Rich’s own property and will serve households in the surrounding area.

We also put the time in to build relationships with community-based organizations. In Chemung County, the site of another DRS project, we formed partnerships with the Environmental Management Council (EMC) and Community Arts of Elmira, and co-hosted events with Mothers Out Front, Solarize Chemung, and Catholic Charities of Chemung. Talking with folks at these events and understanding the work of these amazing local organizations helps us to better appreciate and serve the communities that help make community solar gardens happen.

Community Solar Brings Tangible, Local Benefits

 The Community Arts of Elmira headquarters.

The Community Arts of Elmira headquarters.

These relationships are vitally important to us. At the same time, though, we do our best to maximize the material benefits that solar gardens bring to their communities. When we partner with communities, we make sure that the economic benefits of community solar are flowing right back into the local economy. On top of the direct savings that community solar provides to the households that subscribe, we make sure that some of the revenue goes to the organizations that help us to raise awareness. For instance, for every three people who subscribed after joining us for our Elmira event with EMC, we paid for a local child to go to summer camp and learn about their local environment.

Solar gardens also bring benefits to their broader communities. They generate clean, renewable energy and good, local jobs. Moreover, they bring revenues to the town, county, and local school district, and to the owners of the land where the projects are sited – providing a second stream of revenue to farmers who have had to deal with shrinking and disappearing margins in recent years.

READ MORE: OUR BEST COMMUNITY SOLAR PROJECT YET IS NOW AVAILABLE TO NEW YORKERS

Here’s one reason we love community solar: it will always be a local affair. Unlike ESCOs and third party providers, you can only sign up for a community solar garden if it’s local to your utility zone. And as we’ve seen over our years of working on these projects, it’s local communities that make these projects happen. By helping them organize to bring solar to their town, Solstice provides support for these efforts and brings the benefits of solar energy to more Americans.

RELATED: ENERGYSCORE: FOR A MORE INCLUSIVE SOLAR FUTURE.

Are Solar Panels Really As Green As They Say?

 
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While environmentalism isn’t explicitly codified into Solstice’s five company values, it is a guiding light for our team and the work we do. And over the last few years, thousands of conversations have taught us that environmental stewardship is a value that we share with our customers.

We’ve faced tough questions in our conversations with our customers, and we appreciate this healthy skepticism: Americans want what’s best for the planet, and will take the time to ensure that committing to solar is a decision in line with their environmental values.

RELATED: Community Solar and the Local, Sharing Economy

Do Solar Panels Emit Toxins?

While some solar panel manufacturing does involve toxic compounds, solar panels themselves can be manufactured without toxic elements. Once in operation, solar panels are completely stable. It makes sense: fossil fuel emissions are caused by the fuel is being burned. Solar panels don’t employ any fuel nor chemical reaction, and emit no greenhouse gasses nor toxic chemicals while operating.

End-of-Life Waste: Solar Panel Recycling

Many of the first operational solar panels are still in use after thirty or forty years, with their only deterioration being a moderate drop in efficiency. But a sharp increase in solar energy adoption over the past five years has led many to think about the eventual need for thorough recycling processes. Experts have estimated that in 2050, the value of recyclable solar materials will be to the tune of $15 billion. Currently, 90-97% of a decommissioned panel’s materials can be recycled into new panels or sold onto the commodity market. Put another way, panel recycling is set to be a lucrative and booming business in the coming decades. Nevertheless, it is important that solar manufacturers and installers ensure that there is a recycling plan (and a way to pay for that plan) for every panel they sell.

RELATED: Who pays for community solar gardens?

 Livestock, like sheep and chickens, can graze safely in a solar field, which helps farmers maximize their land.

Livestock, like sheep and chickens, can graze safely in a solar field, which helps farmers maximize their land.

Agreements between municipalities and solar installers mark out responsibilities and funding for their eventual retirement. In fact, the project developer will pay into a decommissioning fund over the life of the solar farm—although the value of the materials and the relative ease with which they can be recycled mean that there may be little need for this fund.

Moreover, we know these folks, and they’re motivated by their environmental impact just as much as we are. Rich Winters, the CEO of Delaware River Solar, is a farmer in the Callicoon area, and the company’s first project was sited on his own land. Perhaps even more than most, he knows the value of land, and developers like these do everything they can to make sure our solar farms protect their local environments.

RELATED: Snow, Sleet, and Hail, Oh My! Why Solar Still Works in Colder Climates

 

Interested in going solar for free?

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What is Energy Democracy? An Interview with Prof. Jennie Stephens

  Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University

Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University

By Forrest Watkins

Energy Democracy is a term that means many things to many people. For many, the focus is getting people more involved in decisions around where and how they get their energy. For others, green jobs are key. Solstice contributes in its own way by expanding solar access to communities that have so far been excluded.

This can all seem a little abstract, though – so we wanted to put a face on this work and let the experts speak for themselves.

Jennie Stephens is a Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at Northeastern University, and her most recent work has focused on the energy democracy movement. We sat down with her to talk about her work and the future of energy democracy.

FW: What does energy democracy mean to you, and why is it important?

JS: Energy democracy is an emerging social movement that connects the renewable energy transition – moving away from fossil fuel reliance – with the redistribution of social, political and economic power. It is important because it connects social justice with energy and climate policy. We can no longer think about energy and climate change as issues that are separate from the other problems we face. The transition away from fossil fuels toward a more renewables-based system has so much value beyond climate mitigation and carbon emission reductions.  We need to focus on the social benefits, like jobs and cooperative ownership, that a renewable-based energy system provides to households and communities. The positive potential of more distributed, renewable energy is under-recognized, but the energy democracy movement is changing that.

RELATED: EnergyScore: For a More Inclusive Solar Future.

FW: What is at the core of the discussion around energy democracy and the policies that support it?

JS: Right now, the US federal government is embracing a national energy policy focused on “energy dominance” rather than “energy democracy”.  Energy dominance can be viewed as the antithesis of energy democracy, leveraging concentrated, hierarchical power to benefit [a select few], as opposed to distributed power that can benefit everyone. In most energy policy discussions, the societal value of transitioning to a system of abundant, plentiful and perpetual energy is not fully acknowledged. Once we invest in harnessing the sun, wind and other renewable sources, there is huge untapped potential for energy resilience.

FW: What's the most exciting thing you've seen happen in the space in the last year?

JS: We just published the first review of energy democracy and associated policies, so we hope our work will contribute to advancing these ideas and helping people advocate for changes in energy that benefit society. Growing resistance to the power of the fossil fuel lobby responding to revelations of the decades-long exploitative, strategic misinformation campaign of fossil fuel companies has also been exciting.

RELATED: Why Community Solar Can Solve the Solar Energy Equity Problem

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The paper looks at energy democracy in the United States, trying to understand how the mix of policies currently proposed by energy democracy advocates corresponds to the overarching goals of the movement. We found that the policies that we examined have the potential to advance renewable energy transitions that meet the goals of the energy democracy movement. At the same time, current policies focus more on promoting renewable energy and less on resisting fossil fuels. Advancing energy democracy will likely require new policy development, a strengthening of existing policies, and further integration of efforts to resist dominant energy systems with those supporting their democratic and inclusive replacements.

You can read Professor Stephens’ full paper here.

Solstice is Not an ESCO

By Forrest Watkins

New Yorkers have been hit hard by shady energy companies known as ESCOs. We spend a lot of our time on the phone with people from around the state, raising awareness about local community solar gardens--and based on that experience, we can tell you two things:

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1. If you’ve been burned by an ESCO, you’re not alone.

Seriously. We hear these stories every day. And papers like the Village Voice have backed them up with hard facts. Representatives of ESCOs (also known as “third party providers”) have been known to:

  • Pose as employees of the local utility company, offering a discount to switch their energy provider to one with “fixed rates”.

  • When drastic rises in utility rates don’t materialize, customers end up paying more for their energy, and worse, ESCO customers often find that discounted energy costs are replaced by inordinately high prices within months of them signing up.

  • Worst of all, some have alleged that ESCOs target low-income communities, elderly groups, and communities where English is not the primary language.

Some of the worst offenders have even faced class-action lawsuits over their shady practices.

These practices are wrong. They take advantage of the good intentions of people who want to protect the environment and save money to support their families, and instead leave these individuals worse off.

 

2. Solstice is not an ESCO.

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Community solar providers are different from ESCOs. Like their name would suggest, ESCOs offer the option of choosing where your energy supply comes from. Community solar acts more like rooftop solar: you get credits on your electric bill for the energy your panels produce, and instead pay your community solar provider.

The difference on your end? This structure means that instead of offering a fixed rate energy price--or one that rises at a fixed rate over time--community solar offers a guarantee rate of savings on the energy your panels produce. So while your energy costs may fluctuate from month to month, at the end of the year, you’ll see savings on your energy costs.

And if you ever want out, you have that option. Our most recent projects have no cancellation fees (or any other hidden fees). All you’d have to do is provide two month’s notice so we can find someone else to fill your spot, and we would go our separate ways.

LEARN MORE: HOW COMMUNITY SOLAR BRINGS YOU SAVINGS YOU CAN RELY ON.

A different approach

So Solstice is not an ESCO, in legal terms, or in practical ones. But there’s more to it than that. We make a constant effort to be upfront with our customers. We try educate you about the energy issues that can affect you, to understand your priorities, and to inform you about your options and the costs and benefits of each. We’re not looking to give you the hard sell--we’ll take the time to walk you through the contract and answer any questions you might have.

You Can Go Solar Today

Get in contact to learn more.

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Who pays for community solar farms?

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Community solar is one of the newest and most innovative avenues for everyday people to access and support renewable energy. Solar gardens provide significant savings on electricity costs to the households and small businesses that subscribe to them, even as they generate revenue for the towns where they’re located and drive revenue to the project’s developer. But it can sound too good to be true: if community solar subscribers are earning a discount from the very beginning, then who is paying for the community solar farm?

Financing Community Solar

Like any other business venture, community solar projects need investors. The majority of financing for community solar projects comes from the private sector, and dozens of firms have sprung up around the country that focus specifically on these projects. In New York alone, their numbers include Distributed Sun, Lever Energy Finance, and C2 Energy Capital. As community solar continues to grow, household names like Morgan Stanley are also getting into financing community solar projects: one of its subsidiaries has dedicated $100 million to community solar.

Solar developers employ this initial financing to build the project, earning money to pay back their investors from three key sources:

  • Customers’ subscriptions - When you subscribe to a portion of your local solar farm, your energy bill goes to support the project. This provides a consistent source of revenue for the projects.

  • Renewable energy credits - In states like New York and Massachusetts, utilities are required to have a certain proportion of the electricity passing over their grid come from renewable energy. In both of these states, they get credit for this through the purchase of credits from renewable energy producers.

  • Tax incentives - In the short term, tax incentives may continue to provide security for investors. Often paid out over the first years of a project’s existence, these are a guaranteed return for investors, and thus can help drive more financing for these projects.

RELATED: Our Best Community Solar Garden Yet is Now Available to New Yorkers

Why give incentives for solar?

Tax incentives exist not because of some special interest connection (fossil fuel lobbyists still vastly outnumber clean energy lobbyists in Washington), but because they pay for themselves many times over. Increased solar investment makes our air cleaner, lowers our dependence on imported fuel, creates local blue-collar jobs in installation and maintenance; and these and other benefits mean that for every dollar invested in solar through these tax credits, the taxpayer has seen approximately $2.20 in economic benefit, according an NREL study.  If you’re interested in a deeper dive into government subsidies for solar energy, our blog post from September covers this thoroughly.

Solar energy: the cheap fuel of the future

Moreover, unlike fossil fuels, solar tax credits are scheduled to be phased out over the next five years. Solar is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world, and given that a rising proportion of these costs come from customer acquisition and permitting processes, there is substantial room to lower costs in the US. With continued innovation by companies like Solstice that are working to reduce the "soft costs" of solar, solar will thrive without subsidies–providing substantial economic and quality-of-life benefits to communities around the world.

Here’s How Much You Can Save With Community Solar.

By Forrest Watkins

Saving money is one of the biggest reasons that Americans are increasingly choosing to switch to solar energy. In fact, Solstice was founded for this very purpose: to bring affordable renewable energy to every American.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. It’s true, if your main goal is to maximize your long-term savings, that rooftop solar is probably your best bet--just as long as your roof is suitable and you’re okay contending with a $10,000-40,000 upfront bill.

Community solar, on the other hand, will bring you substantial savings as soon as your subscription goes live. All you have to do is sign up, and you’ll start seeing reliable savings without installing anything on your property and without worrying about any extra costs.

How much can I save?

The amount of money that you’ll save with community solar depends on the size of your monthly energy bill. We made an infographic that delves deeper into the topic in an easy-to-read format.

Fill out the Form Below to Get Access to the Infographic

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Other Solar Options

There are other forms of renewable energy that various groups offer to U.S. households, but frankly, few of them compare to community or rooftop solar.

Electric utilities often offer the option of using your bill to support renewable energy, but it inevitably involves paying a few cents extra for each kilowatt-hour instead of saving. National Grid, for example, offers an “Energy Choice” program to its customers which adds an extra 6-20% to the typical energy bill.

Similarly, in states with deregulated electricity markets, households can choose to get their energy from a “third party provider” (Also known as an Energy Service Company, ESCO, or TPP). Some of these companies offer purportedly clean energy to their customers, allowing them to “lock in” a rate of electricity. If you read the fine print on those contracts, the rate will increase modestly over time (what the industry calls an “escalator”).

Unfortunately, the energy that these providers are selling are often produced in faraway places where wind and solar are much cheaper. And the reality is that a wind farm in Texas doesn’t pass its electrons 1500 miles to a home in upstate New York. It powers the surrounding area. Even if that were the way our energy system was set up, it would be highly inefficient--anyone in the power industry will tell you that you start seeing significant voltage losses after a few hundred miles. Needless to say, these companies are often offering their customer renewable energy that isn’t at all connected to the energy systems that they use on a daily basis.

Moreover, in their early days, these types of contracts were proffered as a way to guarantee that your energy rates stayed relatively constant while the prices of fossil-fueled sources fluctuated and increased over time. Unfortunately for some, the U.S. fracking boom has led to decreased energy prices in areas powered by natural gas, and many of those who signed contracts with these providers are stuck paying comparatively high prices.

 This is the kind of graph that these providers would show their prospective customers. Looks good, right? (This graphic pulled from American Sentry Solar's website.)

This is the kind of graph that these providers would show their prospective customers. Looks good, right? (This graphic pulled from American Sentry Solar's website.)

 Unfortunately, as RMI explains in  this informative blog post , energy prices don't rise in a predictable curve. They've actually fallen in many places around the country as renewable energy and natural gas prices have plummeted, leaving many customers to pay artificially high power prices.

Unfortunately, as RMI explains in this informative blog post, energy prices don't rise in a predictable curve. They've actually fallen in many places around the country as renewable energy and natural gas prices have plummeted, leaving many customers to pay artificially high power prices.

Community solar is different. Rather than locking in a specific price schedule for their energy, with community solar you lock in savings. The number can vary by project, but with community solar, you save around 10 percent on the energy that your panels produce, so that no matter how the price of energy fluctuates, you’re paying less on your electric bill than you would if you weren’t a subscriber.

Best of all, you support local renewable energy--and you can cancel any time you want (with two month’s notice).

Our Best Community Solar Garden Yet is Now Available to New Yorkers.

 Community solar is an easy way to ensure future generations inherit a healthy Earth.

Community solar is an easy way to ensure future generations inherit a healthy Earth.

By Forrest Watkins

There’s been a hum of excitement around the Solstice offices these past few weeks—and we can finally share what we’ve been working on. Today, we’re ready to announce we are offering you one of the best community solar deals we’ve seen.

Community solar allows households to subscribe to a solar farm in their area, supporting local renewable energy without installing anything on their property, and consistently saving on their electricity costs.

Solstice is ready to provide residents of Central New York and the Southern Tier, including the cities of Ithaca, Elmira, and Binghamton, with solar subscriptions that save them 10 percent on their electricity costs. And our favorite part: you don’t have to commit to the 20-year contracts that most projects require. This project signs you on to the same 10 percent savings, but you only have to commit for 6 years—and what’s more, there are absolutely no cancellation fees.

This is, without a doubt, our most accessible community solar project to date.

WANT TO GO SOLAR? LET US KNOW!

There is only room for approximately 400 households in the projects, which are under development by local New York company Delaware River Solar. Each will be sited on former farmland, on two separate parcels near Chemung Road in Baldwin, New York.

 

Beyond the savings they provide and the renewable energy that they feed into the New York electric grid, these projects will also bring benefits to their communities. The project will provide additional revenues for the town, county, and school district, building the community through trusted local institutions. 

Delaware River Solar is a community solar developer based in New York, and will manage the project development and construction process. Ampion manages the software platform for the project that allows customers to sign up and pay their bills, while Solstice is raising awareness about the project and plugging communities into solar gardens in their area.

 There's never been a better time to go solar.

There's never been a better time to go solar.

Solstice was founded to make solar easy and affordable for every American. Long contracts still prevent many people from participating in community solar, and that’s why this project is so exciting for us. We are beyond excited to bring you the utility bill savings that you need with shorter, easier contracts, and to work together with our community to bring renewable energy to more New Yorkers.

For individuals interested in owning their solar allotment, Solstice is also offering an option to purchase solar garden panels upfront. Those who pursue this option will be able to take advantage of tax credits as well as the standard energy production credits.

 

Don't miss out on this opportunity.

Get in touch with Solstice by filling out the form below.

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Snow, Sleet, and Hail, Oh My! Why Solar Still Works in Colder Climates

By Christie Young

If there’s one aspect of life in the Northeast that everyone here has experienced, it’s the crazy weather—blistering winters, rainy springs and autumns, and weather that continues to surprise you no matter how long you’ve lived here.

 
 It’s always been like this.

It’s always been like this.

 

So if you’re considering solar energy for your home or business, it might seem like a stretch to think that solar panels can power the Northeast. They just seem better suited to sun-drenched southern states. But there’s less sun hitting Germany than the Northeast, and it is still a world leader in solar adoption. In fact, with just 1% of the world's population, Germany currently has 16% of the world’s installed solar capacity, providing approximately six times the proportion of national energy generation as compared to the US (and that includes sunnier US states!).

China presents another interesting example. With approximately the same geographical size and latitude of the US, it includes a similarly large range of climate conditions. And while we commonly associate China with air pollution, it actually leads the world in solar panel installations. Many of these gigantic solar farms are to the north and west, in areas like Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, at virtually the same latitudes to New York or Vermont. Beijing’s major investments in solar show that renewable energy can compete on the largest of scales, and across all sorts of geographies.

At the end of the day, while the New York you know isn’t always the sunniest, the reality is that solar panels are still economically viable and productive in areas across the state.

RELATED: 7 Cons of Solar Energy

 

Solar panels in New York?

It may also seem counter-intuitive that solar panels are more efficient in cooler climates. But it’s true—the lower temperature allows the electrons produced by the panels to travel through an electrical circuit faster and with less resistance. Some desert systems even use cooling systems to avoid overheating.

Snow can be tricky. It’s true that a snow-covered panel functions at only a fraction of its normal efficiency. The good news is that in reality, this doesn’t have much of an effect: snow generally slides off tilted rooftop panels quickly, especially when the sun shines and it begins to melt away. In particularly snowy conditions, though, cleaning may be required. Convenience is one reason that individuals are increasingly choosing to source their electrical use from community solar gardens, where panels are aggregated in a central location.

Related: Where are the best places for solar gardens?

 
 The sun still shines in the winter.

The sun still shines in the winter.

 

Going green without the hassle

With community solar, you don’t have to worry about maintenance or weather. Solar gardens generally employ someone for full-time maintenance work, and this includes clearing panels of snow, dust, and debris, so that the solar garden operates at full potential, 24/7/365. (And it creates a loca job in the process!)

With the right maintenance and integration with emerging energy storage technologies, solar energy can power states across America.

Community solar has many other advantages over rooftop systems: no expensive installation, no upfront costs, and no maintenance or worries.

Solstice Helps Local Institutions Spread Solar in Their Community

By Forrest Watkins

An energy system that is renewable and fair for everyone will put communities first—and your community can help.

The Bridgewater Parish Church had always been dedicated to serving its community and protecting the environment. The organization’s leadership recognized the rising threat of climate change and the injustices introduced by environmental pollution, and wanted to find a way to bring more renewable energy to their community.

Leaders in the community encouraged members to “go green” by making energy efficiency improvements and by switching to solar energy. They discovered, though, that many of their members weren’t eligible to install panels on their roof.

That’s when Solstice came along. We informed them that their members were eligible to subscribe to a local community solar farm, saving 10% on their electric bill while supporting local renewable energy.

For the Bridgewater leadership, it was a no-brainer. With Solstice helping them to spread the word through events and follow-up support, they:

  • Fulfilled an important component of their mission: supporting clean, renewable energy and improving life in their community

  • Strengthened their community ties through leadership and shared work on an issue important to their members

First, the church committee signed up the church. Then, the pastor signed up his own home. And then congregants followed suit.

 
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Learn More About How Solstice Can Help Bring Solar to Your Community

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Solstice Helps Your Constituents Go Solar

A recent Yale study showed that the #1 reason that people go solar is because a friend or neighbor did. This means that solar spreads through communities, and that local leaders have the power to make a difference.

Moreover, the members of the Bridgewater Church aren’t alone. Approximately four in five American households can’t install solar on their rooftop, because their roofs are shaded or facing in the wrong direction, because they rent their homes, or because they can’t afford the upfront costs.

With Solstice, local organizations and businesses have a chance to have a positive impact in their community and strengthen their relationships with their members and constituents. We work hard to make community solar easy, organizing events, providing informational materials, and providing ongoing support to solar ambassadors in your community.

Community Solar and the Local, Sharing Economy

By Christie Young

It can feel like a contradiction: In an era of cheap air travel and video conferences, communities from around the world are taking up the call to go local.

As the harmful effects of globalization have become increasingly apparent, resistance has taken many forms. People trade their cars for ride sharing apps and public transit, or buy used goods from Craigslist instead of shiny new ones at the department store. Approximately 100 million Americans belong to one of our country’s 30,000 cooperatives.

In bringing things back to this smaller scale, re-localizing the economy gives people an opportunity to divorce themselves from faceless corporations and deal directly with people in their communities. And besides keeping dollars in local communities, this trend is modestly contributing to a decline in fossil fuel emissions.

Community Solar: Subscription and Ownership Models Both Bring Benefits to Local Economies

We see community solar as a chance to magnify that impact. Community solar is a mechanism that everyday Americans are using to collaborate on local energy production, gaining control over systems that have historically remained in the hands of large monopolies.

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Most community solar farms operate by allowing people to sign up for monthly subscriptions. This allows households to see immediate savings on their electric bill without any hidden costs or installation on their property, all while supporting renewable energy.

RELATED: Local Concerns: How Community Solar Farms Can Be Developed to Protect Their Local Environment

And while local ownership isn’t part of this model, these projects are in many ways driven by and benefiting their local communities. Financing for the projects is dependent on local engagement with the project: the solar gardens do not get built until households enroll in them. Moreover, projects distribute benefits to individual households in the form of reliable savings, but also to communities in the form of jobs, government revenues, and local clean energy.

Community Solar Ownership: Hurdles and Possibility

Going a step further, some communities have also begun searching for ways of bringing project ownership to local communities.

Colorado’s Clean Energy Collective (CEC; one of the nation’s 30,000 cooperatives!) built one of the country’s first community solar gardens: taking what was, at that point, just an idea, and building a thriving example of community-owned clean energy in Colorado. CEC sold the facility to 19 local homeowners upon its completion. Each member purchased about nine panels (2 kW) on average, and taking into account local clean energy rebates, spent an estimated $3,500.

The extra work involved in this approach can have its rewards. Owning panels can provide increased savings to individuals who are willing to navigate the paperwork involved in redeeming tax incentives and renewable energy credits.

RELATED: The World's 10 Most Beautiful Solar Farms

This ownership model may be the ideal form of community solar for those invested in the vision of a sharing economy: electricity generation for the people, by the people. A local facility produces clean energy, benefits the local economy by creating new jobs and reducing electricity costs, and ownership over the farm ensures that local communities retain control over their energy decisions.

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But many don’t have the savings to pay the costs upfront, and don’t qualify for financing. That’s why Solstice focuses on a subscription model for community solar. We know that low- and moderate-income families typically have higher energy bills than wealthier households, and will benefit the most from electric bill savings. For a local, sharing economy to benefit everyone, it needs to be accessible regardless of economic class—and that means models like subscription community solar.

Community solar is growing by the day. The Department of Energy projects that shared solar resources could comprise 49% of the solar market by 2020. More and more Americans are finding collaborative ways to switch to renewable energy, just like they traded personal vehicles for ride sharing apps. Local, sharing economies are rising to address our social and environmental challenges, and community solar will continue to be at the core of this transition.

Want to go solar? Let us know!

How many solar panels do I need to power my home?

By Forrest Watkins

Whether you’re looking into rooftop solar energy or a local community solar garden, it’s useful to have a rule of thumb to help you figure out how many panels you need to cover your energy usage. Using these simple facts, you can also get a handle on some larger questions about solar energy, like how much energy a solar farm produces and how many homes it can power.

We’ll go into more depth on the considerations behind these numbers in just a moment, but here’s what you need to know:

  • The average US residential solar installation is 5 kW. If we assume 250 watt panels, this means that the average solar home has about 20 solar panels.

  • To cover 100 percent of your energy usage, you may need more panels—especially if you have a large home or an energy-intensive addition like a swimming pool or central air conditioning.

To understand what this means for your household, you can calculate your panels based on how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity you use in a typical month. For a New Yorker, if you divide your total energy use by 1.22, you’ll get the kilowatt size of your system (how much energy your system can produce at its peak). You can then divide this number by 250 to get the number of solar panels that you need. The average New Yorker would thus need an 8.9 kilowatt system (35 panels) to cover their entire energy usage.

 A map of the amount of energy the sun can provide in different areas of the earth. Image Credit: SolarGIS

A map of the amount of energy the sun can provide in different areas of the earth. Image Credit: SolarGIS

  • A home in New York will need more panels than a comparable one in Arizona, because southern desert climates see more sun than cloudier, more northern ones. This is less important than overall energy use, but still makes a significant difference. For example, a resident in Arizona that wanted to cover their entire energy usage with solar might use 6.6 kilowatts (26 panels), compared to a resident of New York, who would need an 8.9 kilowatts (or 35 panels).

Seem like a lot of solar panels for one rooftop? This is one of the reasons that the average solar installation is smaller than what would be required to cover an average household’s energy usage—and one of the reasons community solar is a great option for many households. In fact, with most community solar gardens representing between one and five Megawatts of capacity, a solar garden can power between 140 and 715 American households.

Without space restrictions, we can allot to your household the panels that you need to cover your entire energy bill, without installing anything on your property.

 The largest project we've helped to enroll can power approximately 3,200 homes!  Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

The largest project we've helped to enroll can power approximately 3,200 homes! Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

If you’re dedicated to putting panels on your rooftop, you can also squeeze in more energy capacity with higher-efficiency panels. Solar technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years. Panels on the market today will have relatively similar efficiencies, but higher-end panels, inverters, and other equipment can bring incremental improvements in the efficiency of a solar system. This is generally only necessary and cost efficient when your space is limited.

Want to go more in-depth on the technical reasoning behind these numbers? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Watts calculator is a great resource for calculating the output of different solar energy systems.

The Real Deal on Solar Subsidies

By Christie Young

It’s time to address the elephant in the room: government subsidies for solar energy.

It’s a common belief that solar energy isn’t viable without them. Some even argue that the government shouldn’t incentivize solar at all. When compared to fossil fuels, they say, the numbers don’t add up, and funding solar projects is a waste of money.

But there’s a lot more to the story.

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Fossil Fuel Subsidies Dwarf Solar Subsidies

It is important to discuss solar subsidies in the context of the existing energy landscape. The fossil fuel industry in the US has been the recipient of significant government subsidies since at least the early 1900s. It’s difficult to put an exact number on these subsidies due to complex policies and a lack of transparent data, but one 2015 estimate puts annual subsidies at $20 billion in the US alone. That estimate covers direct spending, tax breaks and unclosed loopholes, and subsidized access to land, resources, and infrastructure.

Globally, G20 country support for fossil fuel industries total $452 billion each year, compared to $121 billion in renewable energy subsidies across the world.

 
 Source:  g20climate.com
 

Beyond direct subsidies and tax breaks, there are associated costs of fossil fuels that are born by taxpayers. Burning coal releases toxins, radiation, and other forms of pollution into the air and causes adverse health effects which lead to millions of deaths per year. Natural gas, often touted as a low-pollution alternative, is often extracted through a process called fracking, which regularly contaminates nearby water supplies and can even increase the likelihood of earthquakes.

Those are just local concerns. All fossil fuels lead to changes to our climate, which in turn contribute to rising sea levels and significant losses to crop productivity, while simultaneously strengthening the destructive power of tropical storms (there is evidence that hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which were each worsened by climate change). These changes to our climate are incredibly expensive: one 2015 estimate from the EPA estimates a loss of $180 billion by the end of this century due to infrastructure repairs, the destruction of natural resources and loss of crops, and other causes. There will also be significant costs to human livelihood, as people lose their lifelong homes, land and even their loved ones.

A recent study from the IMF estimates that governments around the world spent a whopping 6.5% of global GDP - $5 trillion - in 2013 directly subsidizing fossil fuels or paying for the negative consequences that arise from their use. 

 

Plummeting Renewable Energy Costs Decrease the Need for Subsidies

At their peak in 2013, renewables received an estimated $13.2 billion in US government subsidies (only two-thirds the monetary subsidies received by fossil fuels). But subsidies are now declining. Several subsidy programs have since ended, and federal tax incentives will continue to decrease through 2022.

This isn’t just the story of renewables, though: We can trace similar subsidy patterns for the development of every modern energy technology. According to this 2011 study, US government support has historically spiked in the first 15 years of widespread market implementation, and tapered as prices begin to drop. To get off the ground, the US oil and gas industry required about five times as much help from the US government as renewable energy industry has used. Nuclear required twice that of fossil fuels: a whopping ten times what renewables currently receive.

The cost of solar has dropped 58 percent in 5 years, in part due to government support in developing the technology. But that support is becoming less and less necessary. In thirty countries, including Chile, Brazil and China, solar is now the cheapest form of energy excluding subsidies. This trend will likely continue as more nations see solar energy outperforming coal and other fossil fuels, enabling subsidy-free renewable energy development in every corner of the world.

 
 Source: Solar Tribune

Source: Solar Tribune

 

And the argument for switching to solar has never been stronger. Solar panels’ carbon offset far outweighs any emissions resulting from their production. 90-97 percent of a panel’s materials can be recycled and made into new panels. They’re a fuel-free power source, ensuring long-term energy independence for our country and local communities, and the storage technologies that will allow us to go 100 percent renewable are getting cheaper by the day.

In fact, many solar industry leaders are calling for an end to solar subsidies. By accounting for the true costs associated with each energy source, they argue, we can take an open and honest market-based approach to building our next energy systems. Carbon taxes are already being implemented around the world, and many state utilities are working to put systems in place which compensate energy producers for the true value that they add to the energy grid.

With the breakneck progress of renewable technologies, critics’ arguments are disappearing by the day: the world just got its first unsubsidized solar farm, financed entirely with private equity, in the UK. The project was able to achieve this by locating itself next to an existing solar farm, (which lowered its infrastructure costs), but it represents a major milestone in the solar industry’s quest for competitive renewable energy. As solar panel and energy storage costs continue to plummet, it’ll only be a matter of time until unsubsidized clean energy is the norm.

Infographic: How to Bring Solar to Every American.

By Forrest Watkins and Moh Abujmia

It is our mission and our daily work to bring solar energy to every American household. In the years since our founding, we’ve gotten to know intimately the barriers people face in trying to go solar, and we believe that we have an answer: community solar.

Community solar allows you to subscribe to a solar farm in your area and see credits on your electricity bill. You support local clean energy without putting anything on your property or paying any extra costs—and you save money in the process.

Here’s how community solar brings clean energy and savings to your household:

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Community Solar is Solar for All

Every day, we hear from more people who have tried to go solar, but for one reason or another, are locked out of the market. A report from independent industry research group GTM Research found that 77 percent of American households are locked out of the solar market. Here’s why:

Unsuitable Roofs

Prior to the invention of solar energy, a shade tree was a coveted commodity. Now, it can cost you thousands in energy bill savings. In order to work with rooftop panels, a roof has to be unshaded, south- or west-facing, and relatively new.

What’s more, condo owners and other residents of high-density housing are out of luck. There simply isn’t enough space on a single rooftop to power all of those homes.

With community solar, you don’t have to worry about any of these barriers—you support local clean energy without installing anything on your property.

Renters

Renters rarely have control over modifications to their rooftops, and even if they do, the long-term commitments required for rooftop solar financing make it a complicated proposition. Until recently, community solar contracts have been modeled on rooftop contracts and lasted up to 20 years.

Fortunately, the industry is headed in the right direction. Solstice is now offering our first six-year contract, and we’re pushing for contracts that are even shorter.

Community Solar for Low-income Americans

Our energy systems have always distributed their benefits and downsides unequally. And though solar energy has to date given disproportionate benefits to middle- and high-income Americans, community solar is poised to make solar energy accessible for populations in lower income brackets.

Many individuals with relatively high FICO credit scores (above 680), but who live on fixed incomes, are already seeing savings from community solar gardens. But for the more than half of Americans who have lower credit scores (or no credit score at all), community solar remains inaccessible. That’s why Solstice is working to develop alternative credit score requirements that more accurately represent a customer’s ability to pay their energy bill.

Read More: Why Community Solar Can Solve the Solar Energy Equity Problem

Community solar is already bringing savings to households across the country and helping to power our global transition to clean energy. But long contracts and credit scores are still significant barriers to full solar access. Solstice is already working to lower those barriers, ensuring that this new form of solar energy can fulfill its potential, and bringing solar to every American.

The World's 10 Most Beautiful Solar Farms

Check out the video version of this post!

Solar energy: It’s clean. It’s renewable. It’s cheap.

Solar enthusiasts know all these things to be true, but in general, solar panels aren't known for their aesthetic appeal. As more and more solar farms are installed around the world, developers are getting creative, and making their projects more picturesque than ever.

 

1. Monte Plata Solar Project, Dominican Republic

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Nestled in the tropical greenery, the Monte Plata solar farm packs a whopping 69 MW, offsetting approximately 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide and powering 50,000 homes. It’s the largest solar farm in the Caribbean and consists of 270,000 solar panels.

 

2. Sangju City, South Korea

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On the Jipyeong Reservoir in Gyeongsang Bukdo Province, South Korea, are two 3 MW floating solar farm facilities (one shown above). Due to Korea’s relatively small land size, making use of the reservoir surfaces allows the country to increase solar capacity without significantly impacting the land nearby. As for its impact on aquatic ecosystems, the developer maintains that the floating farm decreases evaporation and creates a conducive environment for marine life.

 

3. Crescent Dunes, Nevada, USA

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What’s with this unique design, you ask? This Nevada solar farm utilizes concentrated thermal solar power (CSP) instead of panels that transform sunlight directly into electricity. The spiral arrangement of mirrors captures rays from the blazing desert sun and directs them to a center tower that contains molten salt. This salt is then used to heat water and power steam turbines. To get a better understanding of the sheer scale of this project, one must realize that each of those (seemingly) little mirrors is 37 feet wide and 24 feet tall...and there are over 10,000 of them. The tower in the center is 640 feet high. A project of this magnitude provides enough electricity for 75,000 local homes.

 

4. Datong, China

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The above photo of a panda-shaped solar farm in China was heavily circulated around social media, but it’s actually an artist’s rendition of the project. We still think the actual photographs are pretty cute, and love that the company is using their solar pandas to help educate Chinese youth about the importance of renewable energy. While many associate China with smog and pollution, forward-thinking policies from Beijing have put the country head and shoulders above the rest of the world in installed solar capacity.

 

5. Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii, USA

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Eurus Energy, a Tokyo-based renewable energy company, unveiled this 27.6 MW project in Waianae, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, earlier this year. The island state has pledged to get all of its energy from renewable sources by 2045. This initiative will not only help the environment, but it will also save Hawaii an estimated $3 billion a year that is typically spent on oil imports.

 

6. Andalusia, Spain

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The Andasol Solar Power Station in Andalusia, Spain, is also an example of concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, but unlike the Crescent Dunes plant, this one utilizes parabolic troughs rather than a central tower. Each trough (or row) has a tube containing extremely hot fluid (over 1,000o F) in the middle, which serves the same purpose as the molten sand in the tower at Crescent Dunes. The sun’s rays are bent inward toward the tube, ultimately heating water to power steam turbines. The Andasol station is the first of its kind in Europe, and construction began in 2006. It supplies electricity to approximately half a million Spanish residents.
 

7. Broken Hill, Australia

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The Broken Hill Solar Plant of Australia provides electricity to approximately 20,000 Australians in the outback. The city of Broken Hill, which can be seen in the background, directly benefits from this clean energy generation, as do several local mines.

 

8. Mojave Desert, California, USA

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Much like the Crescent Dunes facility in Nevada, the Ivanpah solar project in the Mojave Desert utilizes concentrated solar power (CSP) technology. While this desert oasis does make our list in terms of beauty, it wouldn’t top any lists in terms of efficiency or output: the farm must burn a large amount of natural gas each morning to commence operation, and output levels have been lower than expected. However, the farm has consistently increased its annual production since its opening in 2014.

 

9. Oxford, MAssachusetts, USA

 Photo courtesy of BlueWave.

Photo courtesy of BlueWave.

Sure, we might be a little biased: the Barrett Street solar project in Oxford, Massachusetts, was one of the solar projects Solstice helped to fill this year! But looking at it nestled in the autumn foliage, we daresay it has every right to be included on this list of beautiful solar farms.

 

10. Postmasburg, South Africa

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Solar is booming in Africa. Rural areas which have never had access to electricity are now installing off-grid solar energy systems to serve their communities, allowing them to ‘leapfrog’ past traditional, fossil fuel grids and straight to renewable, clean technology. This 96 MW solar farm is located in South Africa, and claims Google as one of its financial backers.

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Want to join the clean energy revolution? Switching to solar has never been easier, but it can also be overwhelming. Check out our handy guide: Understanding Your Solar Options.

Local Concerns: How Community Solar Farms Can Be Developed to Protect Their Local Environment

By Forrest Watkins

Solar energy provides many important benefits compared to fossil fuel generation, perhaps most notably the ability to address large-scale environmental problems like pollution and climate change. But like many of you, we’re also concerned with our solar farms’ local impacts. If a solar farm is developed without considering effects to its local environment, it can harm biodiversity and take fertile land out of cultivation, exacerbating the negative impacts of climate change.

Not every solar farm has followed a neutral path. A solar project which will power one of Six Flags’ theme parks would clear trees from 66 acres of land. The company has continued development despite pushback from environmentalists over habitat destruction.

Developing Responsibly

Luckily, there are alternatives to this destructive mode of development--and they’re already being implemented. The key to responsibly developing solar farms is to build the projects on previously developed or contaminated sites. Our most recent projects provide perfect examples of the right way to develop a solar farm.

RELATED: WHAT IS COMMUNITY SOLAR?

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Capped Landfills and Superfund Sites Ideal for Solar Construction

The Solar Garden in Dover, MA that we worked on in partnership with Bluewave sits atop a capped landfill next to the town’s waste transfer station. Because the land is contaminated with potentially hazardous chemicals, many kinds of development are prohibited, and farming is out of the question. Solar farms are one of the only types of development that can occur on contaminated sites such as this one, and are a good way for towns to increase their revenue without putting solar panels on land that could be better used for farming, development, or conservation.

Brownfields: An Alternative

Fortunately, there are a limited number of contaminated sites for solar development. Brownfields, or previously developed land, provide an alternative that avoids the habitat destruction and environmental loss.

Our most recent project, in Oxford, Massachusetts, was built atop a former pig farm. The land had previously been cleared, and was covered with piles of refuse and waste. The project’s developer, BlueWave Solar, cleaned up the land, distributing loam that they unearthed during the project’s development to local farmers and opening up swathes of fertile land in the project’s vicinity for future cultivation. The land will lie fallow for the project’s duration, a process which restores soil fertility.

 The Barrett Street Solar Farm. Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

The Barrett Street Solar Farm. Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

HOUSES OF WORSHIP

Building rooftops are ideal locations for solar panels, given that they are generally not useful for other activities. Businesses that buy into solar generally keep the energy and credits they produce for themselves, but mission-driven community organizations could provide a good source of rooftop space in the future.

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 on their energy costs.

Responsible Solar Farm Development Must Become an Industry Standard

As we outlined in this blog post, states are beginning to take notice of the need to develop solar farms in a responsible way. Massachusetts’ most recent round of solar regulations provide incentives for projects to be sited on brownfields and capped landfills. Minnesota solar developers are now working together with commercial beekeepers to provide protected habitats for pollinators on solar power sites.

These are important steps, but it’s ultimately the responsibility of solar developers and other industry players to push for solar development that respects the integrity of local ecosystems. We are proud to work with mission-driven developers that work to fulfill these ideals, and will continue to advocate for their advancement in the industry.

Everything You Need to Know About Massachusetts' New Solar Regulations

By Forrest Watkins

Despite its long winters and northern position, Massachusetts has long been one of the leading states in solar energy. Now, a new set of regulations will define the state's solar market for the next several years. For those too busy to dive into dense regulatory documents, here’s a summary of the new guidelines.

The Road to SMART Regulations

Quick starts and stops in Massachusetts’s community solar market have shown people’s enthusiasm for solar energy, but also the importance of well-designed energy policies. Until recently, Massachusetts community solar projects have benefitted from two state incentive programs: virtual net metering and renewable energy credits (RECs).

Net metering allows producers of renewable energy to get credit for their contribution to the electric grid. In the case of community solar, this means that customers who subscribe to a local solar garden will see credits on their electric bill for the energy that their allotment produces and see a net discount on their energy costs.

 The Massachusetts State House. Credit:  AbhiSuryawanshi ,  Wikimedia Commons .

The Massachusetts State House. Credit: AbhiSuryawanshi, Wikimedia Commons.

Massachusetts, like many states, has also implemented a renewable energy portfolio standard, setting enforceable goals for the proportion of energy that comes from renewable sources each year. In order to achieve these goals, utilities must buy renewable energy credits (RECs) from renewable energy producers. Solar energy has benefitted especially from these incentives, receiving a higher degree of compensation for special solar renewable energy credit (SREC).

This incentive regime was so popular among solar developers that they quickly hit new capacity caps, triggering a need for emergency regulations for the next phase of solar development.

New Regulations Will Help Growth, But Still Lack in Key Areas

Out of this process, which has dragged on for months and effectively paused the market’s development, came the SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target) program. Recently submitted to the Department of Energy Resources, SMART replaces the state’s current solar incentive program (SREC II), covering the next 1.6 gigawatts of solar capacity (just under 1.6 GW have been installed to date) and giving the state’s solar market plenty of room for growth.

SMART gets rid of the REC program’s preferential treatment for solar and revamps net metering in an attempt to more accurately value different forms of solar energy. Previously, electricity produced by all solar farms was compensated equally. Now, all solar projects will receive a base rate of compensation (determined using an initial competitive process), which will then be adjusted with “adders” and “subtractors” to account for positive and negative social and environmental impacts.

 This community solar project in Dover, MA, is among those sited on capped landfills.

This community solar project in Dover, MA, is among those sited on capped landfills.

Projects can receive adders for being sited on locations such as rooftops, select bodies of water, brownfields, capped landfills, and unused agricultural land, while they would be hit with a subtractor for developing a project on previously undeveloped land. Adders are also available for projects that encourage equity in the solar market, such as community solar and public projects, and projects that serve low-income communities.

Related: Why Community Solar Can Solve the Solar Energy Equity Problem

The most recent version of the regulations pleased solar advocates by eliminating hard caps on the number of projects that can benefit from adders. Unfortunately, the submitted regulations retain many of the features that hamper solar developers’ ability to serve low-income communities.

Still, the compensation rates for low-income projects see steep cuts under SMART. No new projects serving private affordable housing projects have been built under the most recent net metering regime, and SMART compensation levels are still lower.

Furthermore, SMART does not allow households to subscribe to community solar projects across the lines of utility territories. This particularly limits community solar access for residents of the Boston area, where open land is scarce. Low-income urban households spend a high proportion of their income on energy costs, and would see the greatest benefit from the savings that community solar offers. Until these households can subscribe to any solar garden in the Commonwealth, they will miss out on these savings.

The SMART program is a new era for community solar in Massachusetts--one that will bring growth, but which will require redoubled efforts to expand solar inclusion. Equity has always been one of the most prominent failures of our energy system, and it’s no surprise that institutions continue to be challenged in their attempts at inclusivity. Citizens, advocacy organizations, and industry players will need to redouble their collaborative efforts to bring about true equity in our energy systems.

WANT TO GO SOLAR? LET US KNOW!

Community Solar Brings You Savings on Your Electric Bill. These Are the Policies that Make it Happen.

By Forrest Watkins

Community solar is one of the most affordable forms of renewable energy. By allowing you to subscribe to a local solar farm, community solar makes it possible for you to see a discount on your energy supply without paying any additional costs

So what makes community solar possible, and what are the rules that compensate solar gardens for the power that they produce?

Net Metering Gives You Credits on Your Monthly Electric Bill

Community solar takes advantage of rules similar to the ones that give energy savings to households with rooftop solar panels. A policy called “net metering” allows households to be compensated for the renewable energy that they contribute to the electric grid. For every watt they produce, their utility will give them a credit that they can use to pay for their future energy use.

 You can think of net metering as "running back the meter".

You can think of net metering as "running back the meter".

For community solar, utilities use a process called “virtual net metering”, which means that when your community solar farm produces energy, you get the credit on your utility bill, as if you had produced it on your own roof.

Most community solar customers reserve as many panels as they need to cover their typical energy usage, meaning that these credits will usually cover most or all of their electric bill. Instead of your dollars flowing to your utility’s standard power mix, which will usually include natural gas, coal, and nuclear, you directly support local, renewable energy.

Related: Solstice Makes it Easy to Sign Up for Community Solar

Renewable Energy Credits Compensate Solar Developers for Adding Renewable Energy to the Electric Grid

29 states now have renewable portfolio standards, which require that a certain proportion of the energy that electric utilities provide to their customers come from wind, solar, and other renewable resources. Many of these states allow utilities to fulfill this requirement by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Solar panel owners earn RECs when they feed renewable energy into the electric grid, and can then sell those credits to utilities or to other institutions that wish to offset their energy use.

 The Massachusetts State House in Boston. Massachusetts is one of the most important community solar states. Credit:  Daderot  at  Wikipedia

The Massachusetts State House in Boston. Massachusetts is one of the most important community solar states. Credit: Daderot at Wikipedia

In the case of community solar, the RECs provide a source of revenue that helps solar farm developers pay down their projects’ costs.

State governments in 19 states have established rules to make sure that households get credit for the energy that they produce in their local solar garden. These rules position community solar as an important way of scaling up renewable energy in America. Community solar can bring renewable energy and energy bill savings to the approximately four in five American households that can’t install solar on their rooftop, and Solstice is working to make that future a reality.

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