DOE Offers Challenge, Opportunity to Advance Community Solar
The Department of Energy has launched a contest to promote innovative, replicable community solar projects. The “Solar in Your Community Challenge” is a great opportunity to get creative; it also offers $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance. Put your vision for a clean energy future to work and get involved as a team, an expert or a consultant. Applications are due March 17, 2017.
Approximately 50 “teams” across the U.S. will receive seed prizes of $20,000-$50,000 and up to 100 teams will receive technical assistance vouchers of a similar amount. Teams are groups of diverse stakeholders who are pursuing a solar project or a program that would make solar available to underserved groups, such as low- and middle-income households, tribes, non-profits, and state/local governments.
The focus on solar models is for low-income earners. These groups spend a far greater percentage of their income on energy than most people – and would benefit most from reducing their energy costs through a stable lower cost option like solar – that also includes the 30 percent renewable energy tax credit. While there have been innovative partnerships to foster greater access for those without a “tax appetite,” developers partnering with municipalities, schools or nonprofits to pass on the investment tax credit that these groups cannot access by themselves, there is far more need and opportunity. This challenge could help open that door.
This challenge also provides the chance to help incubate other types of innovative community solar projects, such as the Mad River Community Solar Farm (MRCS) which is generating about 225,000 kWh a year for its member-owners. Members of the MRCS project purchased the number of panels they estimated they needed and manage the array democratically as a limited liability corporation (LLC). Because there is no third party, the members get the full benefit of the tax credits and buying in bulk. It’s a successful, innovative approach.
To help Vermonters learn more, the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN) recently hosted a webinar with staff from the Department of Energy to outline this opportunity. Find it on You Tube at http://bit.ly/Solar-Comm-Challenge.
VECAN also has many resources to get your creative ideas flowing, including a community solar toolbox on our website http://www.vecan.net/going-solar-in-vermont/. This contains information on siting solar projects, models of community solar, information about net-metering, success stories and other resources. One of the more unique resources is a set of documents produced by the Vermont Law School’s Institute for the Energy and the Environment — a guide for direct community ownership and have model documents for operating a LLC and leasing land.
While there is some uncertainty about the future of this program with a new federal administration, SunShot representatives have indicated they plan on moving ahead as scheduled for now.
So, get creative! Think big! Consider putting a diverse team together – people with expertise in areas like finance, law, and community engagement – and see what kinds of community solar solutions you think will work for people with more limited access to the transition to clean energy.
More information is available at http://bit.ly/2lwSlwh, or call VECAN’s AmeriCorps member Katie Emerson at 802-223-2328 x 118.