Community Solar PV Garden’s
Distributed Generation (DG)/Distributed Energy Resource (DER) refers to power generated on-site, rather than centrally.
Community-Based, Jointly-Owned Solar PV
Community Solar PV Garden’s (CSG’s) are DG/DER systems powered by solar photovoltaics (a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors that exhibit the photovoltaic effect). PV power generation employs solar panels composed of a number of solar cells containing a photovoltaic material (e.g., monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide/sulfide). Community Solar PV Gardens (CSG’s) are somewhat unique among more traditional DER/DG systems in that they are typically community-based, jointly-owned Solar PV arrays whose principal aim is to produce clean energy at, or below, the price of carbon-energy equivalents.
Solar PV has a number of features which make it attractive as a DG/DER option for Michigan. First, solar PV is a renewable energy source with high environmental benefits. Second, both Michigan businesses and universities hold considerable intellectual property advantages in solar PV and Michigan is a major manufacturer of Solar PV materials and products (indeed, Michigan-based Hemlock Semiconductor is a leading provider of polycrystalline silicon and other silicon-based products used in the manufacturing of solar cells and modules (see: http://www.hscpoly.com/content/hsc_prod/solar_products.aspx).
Michigan Utilities do Their Part
Third, Michigan utilities (including municipal utilities) have expertise in the purchase and integration of Solar PV into existing infrastructure. CSG’s are a new approach which enables utility customers to receive financial benefits of DG/DER ownership without having to install the power production system on their own property. For example, by purchasing large arrays CSG’s can lower their cost installed/watt with aggregated bulk purchasing and can spread the cost of ownership across a broad range of consumers (i.e., individuals, cooperatives, non-profits, businesses, governmental entities and/or utility company(s). Power from the CSG’s can also be used in several ways (e.g., Utility Interconnected (power is sold to a utility under a Power Purchase or Net Metering Agreement), Electric Choice (power is sold to a third-party under an Electric Choice option) and, Self-Generation (stand-alone, behind-the-meter applications) (for more information please see: www.michigan.gov/energyoffice).
Fourth, costs for Solar PV are dropping precipitously, bringing them more in line with the price of carbon-energy equivalents. A 2013 report from the Edison Electric Institute, titled, Disruption Challenges, notes that, “while some will question the sustainability of cost-curve trends experienced, it is expected that PV Panel costs will not increase (or not increase meaningfully)”. The report also notes that, “if PV system costs decline even further, the market opportunity grows exponentially”. Related to this, Federal support for solar energy is expected to grow. Ernest Moniz President Obama’s appointee at the Department of Energy, notes, “I will admit to being very bullish on solar in the long term.” “Building on much of the work that the DoE has been doing for the last four years is important,” Dr. Moniz also noted, “We don’t need to reinvent a lot of what’s going on at DoE but rather continue to fund it and continue to make it a priority.”
CSG Trending in Michigan
While CSG’s are very new to Michigan, a number of important initiatives are currently underway in the state. First, the Great lakes Renewable Energy Association has launched a new Community Solar program to identify and remove market barriers to CSG’s (see: (http://www.glrea.org/, “Community Solar White Paper”). Second, early in 2013, the Michigan Energy Office (MEO) contracted with the Clean Energy Coalition to develop a model Solar PV Permitting Guidebook that will educate communities on ways to streamline local ordinances and permitting processes that often make solar PV cost prohibitive. In March 2013, the MEO also let a second RFP for a Community Solar PV Garden project to study the feasibility of various different types of CSG’s within the context of “Home Rule.”
Lastly, in April 2013 the Traverse City Light and Power (TCL&P) became the first community in the state to approve a new Community Solar Garden Project for residents. The TCL&P CSG partnership with Cherryland Cooperative allows customers to lease part of a larger PV array. TCL&P also offers a $75 rebate to customers through its Energy Smart program to reduce the one-time leasing fee (the lease will also be transferrable if a customer moves out of the two utility’s service areas). Customers will receive a renewable energy credit on their monthly statement reflecting the amount of solar energy produced for the month (for more information please see: http://www.tclp.org/Mutual/CommunitySolar/EnergySmart).
More Interest in the Future
In summary, Community Solar PV Garden’s (CSG’s) are an innovative financing and ownership model for Distributed Generation (DG)/Distributed Energy Resource (DER) solar PV power production systems. With continuing reductions in the installed cost/watt for solar PV, streamlining of financing and ownership models growing and increased interest in CSG’s as a community/economic reinvention tool, Michigan can expect to see a lot more interest in CSG in the future.