solar gardens press releases

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June 6, 2010

Sun Rises on Community Solar Gardens

Text and photo by Robyn Lydick, Solar Gardens Institute

Governor Ritter Signs the Solar Gardens Act


On an appropriately sunny Colorado afternoon, the Community Solar Gardens Act became reality. With the flatirons in the distance, Gov. Bill Ritter signed HB1342 into law June 5.

Full text of Community Solar Gardens Act

“At SolarGardens.org, we see the Community Solar Gardens act as a step toward enabling everyone to own their own solar panels,” said Joy Hughes, founder of SolarGardens.org. “Even if you have shade on your roof or rent your house, you can subscribe to the sun, and if you move, your subscription moves with you.”

Rep. Claire Levy ,D-Boulder, author and House sponsor of the bill,
credited a single resident with the idea of community solar.
The constituent, Solargardens.org board member Greg Ching, mentioned that his neighbors in the mountains above Boulder have good exposure, but don’t necessarily have the money for their own system. He thought allowing panels on another owners property would help the mountain residents generate power for their homes.

Levy looked into the law, and saw several impediments to siting solar panels off one’s own land. At the same time, Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, was looking for a way for her constituents to own collaborative solar. They joined forces and carried the Community Solar Gardens bill.

As Ritter signed it, he spoke of the leadership Colorado has taken in
the new energy economy, and the 56 bills, of which Community Solar Gardens is the latest, that position Colorado as the national, and Ritter argues, international leader in new energy economies.

Allowing people to purchase solar gardens subscriptions benefits
the customers by allowing them access to benefits, from rebates to tax incentives, that homeowners get. The act also aids utility companies in achieving their state-mandated 30 percent renewable energy standard as customers sell excess power back into the grid.

David Eves of Xcel Energy said the act allows those who cannot now
participate in Xcel’s Solar Rewards program to do so.

“You have a lot of good ideas coming out of Boulder,” Eves said.
“Thank you for pushing us.”

The Community Solar Gardens act will allow people to own an interest in solar panels that are not on their property. Becoming part of a community solar garden brings clean, sustainable power to renters of homes, apartments or offices, condo owners, people with locations that are not ideal for solar panels or live in areas with homeowner associations that limit the number or location of panels.

A Community Solar Garden is at least 10 people, called subscribers,
who own an interest in panels at a site. HB 1342 directs the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to create rules that require public utilities to extend rebates and other offers available to homeowners who install photovoltaic panels to these groups. One of the benefits for the utilities is more renewable power generated in areas where it is used and sold to the grid.

State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, sponsored the bill in the House and State Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, sponsored it in the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-El Dorado Springs, is sponsoring a
bill at the federal level, the Solar Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Act, which will give federal tax rebates to solar panels hosted in solar gardens.

For more information on Community Solar Gardens, visit www.solargardens.org.

Press Contacts:

Joy Hughes
joy@solargardens.org
(719) 207-3097

Greg Ching
greg@solargardens.org
(303)835-3550

May 25, 2010

New Legislation Supports Community Energy Projects Allowing Green Power for Renters
by Robyn Lydick, Solar Gardens Institute

Renters, homeowners with shaded locations, and small businesses now have an option for generating and using solar electricity.

“What if everyone, absolutely everyone, could own their own solar panels?” said Solar Gardens Institute Founder Joy Hughes. “Each of us can have a solar panel the way we have a belly button!”

Not every person has a steady place to keep their solar panels. Some have trees or buildings shading their roof, others live in apartments or rent a home. “Rather than just buying green power, folks can own part of a Community Solar Garden(TM),” Hughes said. With a solar garden, each subscriber’s electric bill is credited for energy produced by grid-tied solar panels hosted nearby, receiving an equivalent amount of energy from the grid.

The Solar Gardens Institute supports the rapidly growing community energy movement. The Web site includes news articles, an extensive FAQ, and a list of applicable laws and local organizations by state. The Solar Gardens Institute will offer workshops and conferences on and off line, and help to ensure the organizational, financial and technical soundness of community energy facilities.

The Institute’s headquarters in Westminster, Colo., has a roof-mounted solar garden with 48 panels on the roof.

Ten subscribers within the office building and the surrounding community will be able to purchase one kilowatt each of electricity. The Institute’s headquarters will serve as a test bed for software and best practices as Colorado prepares for larger facilities. It is managed by The Solar Panel Hosting Company, www.solarpanelhosting.com, which coordinates the development and management of solar gardens.

“I put solar on my little office building as a response to an overriding global health concern,” said building owner Richard Deem. “Let’s do more to keep the carbon in the ground.”

Community Solar Gardens also support the rapidly growing sustainable energy industry in Colorado, bringing nontraditional solar panel owners into the mix.

“The buzz surrounding Community Solar Gardens has aroused interest not only with potential subscribers and land owners, but with local installers as well,” said certified installer Doug Southard, owner of Southard Solar.

“They provide localized power stations, reducing the need for additional transmission infrastructure by providing energy at the point of use. Much interest has come from home owner associations, which do not always allow solar panels on individual homes.”

To fully benefit from a solar garden, members will need to claim the 30 percent federal tax credit. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-El Dorado Springs, has introduced the Solar Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Act (S. 3137) which will extend the tax credit for homeowners who purchase photovoltaic panels to those who invest in community solar gardens. The Solar Gardens Institute spearheads a national campaign to support this bill.

Colorado passed a bill in the 2010 Legislative session allowing participants in Community Solar Gardens.

Colorado joins Washington state, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts in allowing Virtual Net Metering. Remotely hosted solar panels are treated as if they are on the customer’s roof. The term Community Solar Garden has been used for two facilities in Massachusetts by My Generation Energy, www.mygenerationenergy.com, which has applied for a trademark.

In Northern Colorado, homeowner Greg Ching promotes community-based renewable power.

The Nederland Renewable Energy Project has been looking to build a community energy farm. The passage of the Community Solar Gardens Act in Colorado is a significant step towards this goal,” Ching said.

The bill gives state rebates to participants in solar gardens in the territories of Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy.

Projects are encouraged to include low-income electric customers. Under another bill, renewable energy credits will be doubled for community projects in Rural Electric Associations. Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs are supported, enabling home owners to purchase a solar garden subscription secured by home value.

At the county and municipal level, the Solar Gardens Institute advocates for zoning and permitting regulations that encourage mid-scale facilities near the point of use, larger than home solar but smaller than industrial-scale plants.

“The Solar Gardens Institute is a community of communities, all helping each other go solar. Towns, citizens groups, solar companies and individuals all have a piece of the puzzle. Together we are finding a way to go solar that builds community wealth and protects sensitive landscapes.” said Hughes.

For more information about Solar Gardens Institute, call Hughes at

719-207-3097.

About Solar Gardens.org:

The Solar Gardens Institute, which has applied for non-profit status, organizes communities to go solar by pooling their resources. Libraries and schools, churches and synagogues, businesses and citizens groups can benefit by hosting a distributed power plant where anyone can own solar panels. SolarGardens.org advocates for community based distributed energy at the federal, state, and local levels. Solar Gardens are self-organizing everywhere, beginning to transform America through solar power and people power.