Description: Communities around the country are benefiting from access to community solar projects, a distributed solar energy deployment model that allows customers to buy or lease part of a larger, off-site shared solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Local community groups, nonprofits, and environmental organizations are working together to facilitate this model of local solar development. Community solar helps renters, condominium owners, and homeowners with shaded homes or homes lacking suitable rooftop space to benefit from clean, renewable energy generation. Community solar projects can also advance environmental justice goals by providing low-income households an opportunity to subscribe to community solar projects and save on their electric bill without the upfront cost of installing solar panels on their own homes.
While Colorado legislation enabled community solar projects in 2010, New York State has emerged as the national leader in community solar projects and capacity. As of September 2022, 22 states and Washington, DC, supported community solar projects with specific policies or programs. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) 5.6 gigawatts of community solar had been installed in the United States as of the end of 2022.
Thanks to $7 billion in funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), it is expected that more states and more communities will see community solar projects in the future. According to the EPA, it will direct part of its share of IRA funding to “states, Tribes, municipalities, and eligible non-profit entities to enable the deployment of residential rooftop solar, community solar and associated storage and upgrades in low-income and disadvantaged communities.” To support development of these projects, the IRA also provides “tax credit monetization.” This feature allows local, state, and tribal governments as well as non-profit organizations and other tax-exempt entities to receive direct payments for project development. These payments will be equivalent to certain tax credits, such as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the Production Tax Credit (PTC). Several state programs also provide incentives, loan guarantees, or funding for community solar projects.
Representative community solar programs and projects include the following:
Illinois Solar for All (ILSFA) is a state program that brings the benefits of solar energy to income-eligible households, non-profit organizations, and public facilities. ILSFA provides incentive funding to qualified vendors to construct the solar facility and guarantees savings to low-income subscribers. A key provision of the ILSFA program is funding for outreach and community education.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore facility in Bloomington, IL, qualified for ILSFA as a nonprofit in a low-income census tract and environmental justice community. Habitat for Humanity leaders considered adopting solar power at the ReStore facility, but the cost was too high at $160,000, or 5% to 7% of its annual operating income. Through a connection with Ecology Action Center, a local environmental education organization contracted by ILSFA to provide outreach and community education, ReStore leaders were able to secure ILSFA incentives that made their project financially viable. Upon project completion, ReStore quickly began to see benefits. By generating 85% of the electricity it needs to operate, the ReStore was able to redirect money from utility bills to the Habitat for Humanity mission.
Providing savings to low-income seniors, the Gar Creek Solar farm In Kankakee, IL, was created through collaboration between Trajectory Energy Partners, an ILSFA approved vendor, and Kankakee landowners, community leaders, and local unions. The non-profit Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) is the anchor subscriber and residents of POAH’s 221 affordable apartments in Harvey, IL, a south Chicago suburb, will be given priority access to purchase electricity from Gar Creek Solar at reduced rates.
Minnesota’s community solar program, also known as community shared solar or community solar gardens (CSGs), was launched in 2014. Most community solar projects in Minnesota are owned and operated by electric cooperative utilities, which offer subscriptions to their customers. The largest community solar program is administered by Xcel Energy. Regulations require that CSGs serve ratepayers within the project county or neighboring counties and that subscribers will always earn bill credits that are higher than the subscription cost.
In Minneapolis, the non-profit Minneapolis Climate Action (MCA) helped establish the North High Community Solar Garden. Installed in 2021 on the roof of the North Community High School, the 365 kW solar garden serves subscribers in North Minneapolis. Construction and financing was provided by local, minority-owned, business partners; MCA provides maintenance and upkeep required at the solar garden.
The Second Chance Community Solar Garden, also in Minneapolis, was developed with local minority business enterprises and Emerge Second Chance Recycling Facility, a nonprofit that provides job training for formerly incarcerated citizens.
In New York, community solar was formally recognized in 2015 with the launch of the Community Distributed Generation Program. In this program, community members join together and partner with a project sponsor who builds and operates the solar facility. A separate program, NY-Sun, provides opportunities for renters, homeowners, low-income residents, schools, and businesses to access clean and affordable power.
- In New York City, Solar One is an environmental nonprofit working to expand access to clean energy in the New York CIty region. A Solar One project completed in 2021 was developed at three New York City Housing Authority developments — the George Washington Carver Houses in Spanish Harlem; Kingsborough Houses in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; and Glenwood Houses in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn. The initiative delivers direct energy savings to 500 low-to-moderate income (LMI) households through a 20% discount on solar credits, saving each person about $120 per year.
- Increase renewable energy production
- Increase solar access for renters, homeowners, and low-income ratepayers
- Increase local solar development
Measurement: Gigawatts of local, distributed solar PV capacity installed
Time to Implement: 2 years to draft and adopt rule amendments
9 States With Rapid Growth in Community Solar
Illinois Solar for All: Community Solar
Habitat for Humanity ReStore – Illinois Solar for All
Gar Creek Solar – Illinois Solar for All
Why Minnesota’s Community Solar Program is the Best
North High Community Solar Garden – Minneapolis (presentation slides)
Second Chance Community Solar Garden – Minneapolis
Interest in soon-to-open Rice County solar garden growing
New York’s Community Solar Program
Solar One project to bring affordable solar energy to NYC public housing wins DOE award
California’s Community Solar Program
Community Solar – National Renewable Energy Laboratory
What is community solar? And how can you sign up?
National Community Solar Programs Tracker
Cooperative Community Solar Gardens – Building Equity in Our Energy Future (Minnesota)
Community Solar 101- Coalition for Community Solar
Community Solar – Solar Energy Industries Association
Community Solar Is About to Get a Surge in Federal Funding. So What Is Community Solar?
Habitat for Humanity Restore
Phone: (309) 454-6047
Illinois Solar for All
Trajectory Energy Partners
Gar Creek Solar project
Kyle Samejima, Executive Director
Minneapolis Climate Action
Emerge Second Chance Recycling
Phone: (612) 332-0664
9-03 44th Road, 201
Long Island City, NY 11101
Phone: (212) 505-6050