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Community Renewable Energy Development


Community renewable energy development can take many forms, including offering a community renewable energy program, developing a community green power challenge, or developing local renewable projects. Some communities are installing renewable energy on local government facilities. For example, the City of Boulder installed a biomass burner to heat its county jail. Other local governments are installing solar on school buildings or community centers. For more information, see examples of state and local governments that have installed on-site renewable energy systems.

Community Renewable Energy Programs

Community renewable energy programs allow customers to purchase a share of a renewable system developed in the local community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share. Typically, community renewable energy programs feature either solar or wind power generation.

Community Solar

Community solar provides access to solar power for customers who cannot put solar on their roofs. Such unsuitability can occur if a person rents, does not own roof space (e.g. condominium owners), lives in a home with suboptimal roof orientation, or lives on shaded or unsuitable land for a solar installation. Development of a community solar program allows such customers to purchase shares of a solar power system and to benefit from that system's environmental and/or economic benefits.

An example of such a community solar development is the Holy Cross Energy solar project in El Jebel, Colorado. The El Jebel community photovoltaic array is an 80 kilowatt (kW) system supported by 18 community participants that purchase shares at an upfront cost of $3.15 per watt ($3,150 per kW) and then receive a credit on their bill each month at a rate of $0.11 per kilowatt-hour.

A number of programs have been developed recently, particularly in the Northwest and in Colorado. For examples of programs, see A Guide to Community Solar: Utility, Private, and Non-Profit Project Development. PDF

Existing programs around the country include (technology - start date - total):

Community Wind

Like community solar, community wind allows groups of investors to purchase shares of a windmill or wind farm and to benefit from the environmental and/or economic benefits of wind power. Farmers and rural landowners are often involved in the development of a community wind initiative, either through leasing the large amount of land required for a wind power system, or through outright ownership of a share of the development. This type of ownership arrangement allows for localized economic development as community members possess a direct financial stake in the project, beyond the typical land lease and tax revenues of transactions with traditional power producers.

A number of projects have been developed in the last six-to-seven years.

Existing programs around the country include:

Community Green Power Challenges

Local communities can encourage community members to purchase green power by developing a green power challenge. In many cases, communities partner with local utilities, third-party marketers, and/or environmental organizations to raise awareness of green power purchasing options. With buy-in from a large stakeholder group, community challenges can provide multiple communication avenues. Short term "green power challenges" set goals for having a certain fraction of their residents and businesses purchase green power within a specified time, usually about six months.

For example, in 2009, Lake Oswego, Oregon launched a two-month Green Power Challenge, attracting new customers to purchase green power through Portland General Electric's renewable energy programs. The campaign increased the community's collective green power participation rate to more than 12 percent and bumped up the city's consumption of renewable energy to about 9 percent (35 million kWh) of its total demand.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes Green Power Communities. EPA Green Power Communities must collectively use between three and twenty percent green power, depending on the annual electricity use of the community.

Many communities have implemented challenges, including:


Carlisle, N., Elling, J., Penney, T. (2008). A Renewable Energy Community: Key Elements. PDF

Costanti, M., Beltrone, P. (2006). Wind Energy Guide for County Commissioners. PDF

Coughlin, J.; Grove, J.; Irvine, L.; Jacobs, J.F.; Johnson Phillips, J.; and Wiedman, J. (2012). A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, and Non-Profit Project Development. PDF DOE/GO-102012-3569. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Coughlin, J.; Grove, J.; Irvine, L.; Jacobs, J.; Johnson Phillips, S.; Moynihan, L.; Wiedman, J. (2010). A Guide to Community Solar: Utility, Private and Non-profit Project Development. PDF

Department of Energy. (2012). A Guide to Community Solar: Utility, Private, and Non-Profit Project Development. PDF

Department of Energy. (2012). Community Wind Benefits. PDF. November. Accessed December 14, 2012.

Department of Energy. (2010). Community Greening: How to Develop a Strategic Energy Plan. PDF

Farrell, J. (2010). Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities. PDF The New Rules Project.

Heeter, J. and J. McLaren. (2012). Innovations in Voluntary Renewable Energy Procurement: Methods for Expanding Access and Lowering Cost for Communities, Governments, and Businesses. PDF NREL/TP-6A20-54991. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. September.

Interstate Renewable Energy Council. (2012). Community-Shared Solar Diverse Approaches For A Common Goal. PDF

Interstate Renewable Energy Council. (2010). Community Renewables Model Program Rules. PDF

Kubert, C. (2004). Community Wind Financing. A Handbook by the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Accessed September 11, 2012.

Northwest SEED and Bonneville Environmental Foundation. (2009). The Northwest Community Solar Guide. Accessed July 18, 2012.

The Minnesota Project. (2009). Lessons and Concepts for Advancing Community Wind. PDF December. Accessed July 18, 2012.

Windustry. (2007). Community Wind Toolbox Chapter 1: Introduction to Community Wind Development. PDF (Windustry offers case studies and links to guidebooks and other information regarding community wind project development on their website.)

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