Community-Owned Solar Power on the Rise in the U.S.

Conditions are right for growth in community-owned solar photovoltaic (PV) projects. With more than 1-MW of community-owned solar garden projects in development and a pipeline of an expected 5-MW more this year, Martifer Solar USA and the Clean Energy Collective intend to capitalize on the improving situation.

The two partners are leveraging their respective strengths in the U.S. solar power sector to bring an increasing amount of local, community-owned solar power capacity online – Los Angeles-based multinational Martifer Solar USA in PV manufacturing and systems installation and Clean Energy Collective in community-based renewable power project development.

“With demonstrated success in Colorado and net metering legislation on the table in California, now is the time for community owned solar,” Martifer CEO Raffi Agopian stated in a press release.

Unique partnership model

“We have always sought innovative ways to deliver solar power to Americans, and our partnership with the Clean Energy Collective represents the best of those efforts. Their unique ownership model, combined with our expertise in project development, design and construction, has secured over a megawatt of contracts so far this year. We are already looking at a total project pipeline in excess of five megawatts for 2012.”

A pioneer in the field, Clean Energy Collective (CEC) has developed an innovative business model and technology for developing community-based clean, renewable power generation. Partnering with solar PV manufacturing and installation companies such as Martifer Solar USA, it develops large-scale solar and renewable power facilities that are “collectively owned by participating power utility customers.”

A core aspect of such efforts is CEC’s proprietary RemoteMeter system, which “automatically calculates monthly credits and integrates with existing utility billing systems, enabling all utility customers to easily have clean, renewable power credited directly on their monthly utility bills without modifying their home or office,” CEC explains.

Colorado a hotspot for community-owned solar power
Colorado’s been a hotspot for CEC and Martifer Solar USA’s solar gardens. The two worked together in 2011 to build the 858-kW Garfield County Airport Solar Array – the largest PV installation of its kind in the U.S. when it was completed. The project also garnered national recognition when it won the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA) “2012 Photovoltaic Project of Distinction Award.”

“The program is highly subscribed, and outperforming our expectations a year after its completion,” elaborated Paul Spencer, CEC founder and CEO. “We have proven that community owned solar works, and works well. Customers, utilities, and the solar industry are all paying attention.”

Despite their optimistic outlook, CEC and Martifer Solar USA recognize the challenges related to developing community-owned solar PV installations in the US. That’s where their partnership really yields dividends, Spencer explained.

“We invested heavily in the development of the solar garden concept, but someone has to execute. Martifer Solar USA has done so in the past and achieved the results we wanted; we are pleased to enter into new contracts with them this year, and see many more on the horizon.”

Added Martifer Solar USA chief strategy officer Kent James, “Community-owned solar has the potential to bring clean energy to five times more customers than traditional residential ownership. That potential makes this market a major strategic focus for us going forward.”

The partners are now looking to collaborate on two additional projects in Colorado: one in the service area of the San Miguel Power Association and another in that of the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association. With rated maximum capacity of 1.15-MW, the San Miguel project is shaping up to be the largest community-owned solar PV array in the country, according to the companies.

With a dedication ceremony scheduled for August 28, the Poudre Valley REA Community Solar Farm is the first community solar farm in Northern Colorado, according to project partners. The solar PV array installation allows members of the electric cooperative to purchase individual solar panels within the solar farm to offset their electric use. Phase 1 of the solar farm was sold-out before the project’s completion, and Phase 2 is actively being planned, according to CEC.

*Photo Credit: Martifer Solar USA

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email: huginn.muggin@gmail.com