In essence, it is a solar power plant that allows people who don’t have a good spot for solar to group together and place solar panels in an ideal location, allowing the electric company to treat them as if the panels were on their property.
We lease land somewhere that is good for solar and develop the Community Solar Garden. When it puts power into the Grid, it receives a “bill credit” from the electric utility for that amount of power. The bill credit is a right to take that same amount of power out of the electric grid somewhere else in the same electric grid at no cost. We then sell the bill credit to the people who don’t have a good spot for solar, thereby allowing them to save money through solar even though they don’t have a good spot for solar panels. The people who buy the bill credits are referred to as the “subscribers” since they subscribe to the Community Solar Garden by agreeing to buy the bill credits.
Community solar projects are often subject to strict regulations depending on the state where it is located, such as limitations on the size of the development to 5 Megawatts (about 40 acres), incorporating battery storage, or requiring union labor.
We only install Silicon Cell Polycrystalline solar panels, which do not contain any hazardous materials. The panels are encased in glass and an aluminum frame that is affixed to the racking system. We use American made panels when possible.
Solar racking equipment holds the panels in place. It is typically made of American steel. Racks are either arranged in rows (aka "Strings") that go from East to West which are at a motionless fixed tilt facing South, or in rows from North to South which pivot on a single access tracker, following the sun from East to West.
The solar panels and racking are affixed to the ground with American steel I-beams, driven to a depth that will allow the installation to sustain winds in excess of 150 MPH as determined by a licensed engineer and based on site specific soil conditions. No concrete is used except for the equipment pad, which makes it easily decommisisonable.
The area underneath the solar panels is planted in an indigenous pollinator friendly seed mix, which creates wildlife habitat for insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles–and the wildlife that eat them. The deep-rooted pesticide-free free mix reduces erosion by slowing down the velocity of water runoff and improves the permeability of the soil. Similar to CRP mix, it acts as a natural filter, cleaning any water that drains into nearby waterbodies or wetlands and improves the quality of the soil for future agricultural use.
Solar panels generate Direct Current "DC" electricity. The electrical grid uses Alternating Current "AC." Therefore, solar power needs to be converted from DC to AC before entering the electrical grid. The device that does this is called an "Inverter." There are two types of inverters, string inverters or central inverters. String inverters are small and quiet. They hang on the end of some of the solar panel rows and work together. Central inverters are bigger and do all the inverting at a single point.
A community solar garden has one concrete equipment pad that takes up about 200 sf. The equipment pad is where metering equipment is mounted. The amount of electricity that is produced by the solar development is measured by the solar development owner and the electric utility. The power production and equipment are monitored 24/7 by a satellite or cellular based security system. An emergency shutoff switch is also on site.
The access road is a packed class 5 gravel road that accesses the parcel and leads from the Point of Interconnection to the Metering Pad. It does not wind around the solar array within the fence.
We want to be sensitive to the aesthetic preferences of surrounding landowners who may not like looking at solar panels. When appropriate, we will meet with them to discuss a vegetative screening plan to obscure the line of site to the solar panels with plantings.
Everything but the access road and point of interconnection are surrounded by a 6' chain link security fence. Typically it's a "deer style" fence to allow birds, rodents, and other wildlife to pass through.
The point of interconnection ("POI") is where the solar array meets the utility's electric grid. It is located outside of the fence at the end of the access road next to the distribution power line that runs along the road. The electric utility typically owns the POI and has an easement on the landowner's property.
Some Community Solar Gardens use batteries to store power. Demand and price for electricity changes throughout the day. It typically peaks late afternoon to early evening. Demand is highest on the hottest and sunniest days. Batteries allow a solar development to either produce a more consistent load of power throughout the day or release the power when demand is highest, thereby optimizing the electric grid for the electric utility.
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