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Community Solar: Guides to Community Solar

Guides to Community Solar

Here are some guides to introduce you to community solar projects.  These resources explain what community solar projects are; their benefits; steps and options in planning them; implementation steps; key considerations for consumers; and policy/regulatory issues affecting community solar

Benefits of Community Solar


A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, and Nonprofit Project Development

U.S. Department of Energy

This community solar guide created by the U.S. Department of Energy outlines three approaches to implementing an effective community solar project. 

  1. Utility sponsored
  2. Special purpose
  3. Non-profit model

The guide discusses the pros and cons of each model and provides recommendations.

There are many legal, financial, and project design considerations to address.  This guide walks through five phases:

  1. Feasibility analysis
  2. Project development: site selection and resource evaluation; financing; ownership structure; permitting and environmental review; interconnection and power arrangement; procurement and contracting
  3. Construction
  4. Operations and maintenance
  5. Decommissioning or exit strategy





Solar Energy Industry Association and Coalition for Community Solar Access – 2016

This residential community guide to solar energy was created by the Solar Energy Industries Association and Coalition for Community Solar Access. It informs consumers on what community solar energy is, expert tips on how to be an informed consumer, and questions consumers should ask before entering into a subscription agreement for energy produced by the project.  Among the key terms to look for in a subscription agreement are:

  • All charges and whether charges increase over time
  • Terms and conditions for early termination or transfer
  • Notice of outages
  • Warranties







Catalyzing Community Solar: a Handbook for Municipalities

“This Handbook is intended to help municipalities clearly define and articulate the project’s objectives and understand the financial, legal, and policy issues they would need to address to initiate community solar investments in their communities and convey the resulting benefits to their constituents.

“The Handbook identifies three obstacles to success — access to capital, expertise, and risk-allocation — and includes suggestions on how to overcome these obstacles, including the potential use of public funds to reduce the project’s cost and public-private partnerships. This study also includes ideas gleaned from other community solar projects that appear particularly interesting or innovative. In addition, it offers five possible deployment models municipalities could use to support, finance, or build a community solar project in their jurisdictions.”


Smart Electric Power Alliance, "Community Solar Program Design Models

Among the useful information in this report are:

          - In 2017, community solar programs installed about 387 MW of capacity. There was a 112% year-over-year growth in capacity.  

          - 33% of cumulative community solar capacity is administered by a utility, and 67% is administered by a third-party provider.

          - 44% of community solar programs had low- to moderate-income customers

          - "[P]rograms promising immediate bill savings almost universally garner a full subscription. Programs that provide either a hedge against potential rate hikes or payback the upfront payment after a set period experienced lower subscription rates."

          - The Community Solar Decision Tree describes considerations and options in: (1) Who runs the program? (2) What is the subscriber's economic proposition? (3) What are the participation restrictions? (4) What are the other terms and conditions?  The report provides links to programs illustrating various options.

          - "Ultimately, there are many ways a community solar program can be successfully designed. The key is giving proper consideration to what target subscribers are looking for in a program and what the administrator is aiming to accomplish. For example, a program designed to satisfy the demand of the most environmentally concerned customers will and should look very different compared to a program aiming to reduce the electricity bills of low- to moderate-income customers."

Shelton Group and Smart Electric Power Alliance, "What the Community Solar Customer Wants". 

Survey of thousands of residential and business customers.  Marketing recommendations:

- Offer a comprehensive portfolio of options

- Emphasize reduced energy costs

- Emphasize good corporate citizenship

- Offer attractive financing

- Use messaging that resonates with the identified targets


Illinois Solar Energy Association

Illinois Community Solar Association, “Community Solar Project Proposal Development” (May 2017)

Presentation to inform community groups on aspects of developing a community solar project

Illinois Community Solar Association, Frequently Asked Questions

Addresses questions with information including:

  • §  “Numerous local and national studies have shown that clean energy projects do not reduce nearby property values.”
  • §  “At around 8-12 feet high, solar arrays have a low profile, and landscaping is often used to shield the project from view.”
  • §  “A typical solar project will generate 30 years of steady tax revenue to fund schools and other community services while helping keep taxes low for homeowners.”
  • §  “Lease agreements and county solar ordinances will specify a developer’s responsibility for decommissioning projects and returning land to its prior use.”
  • §  “Glare from solar panels is not a problem because PV solar panels are designed to absorb sunlight, rather than reflect it.”

Opening Doors to Community Solar: Insights from Cook County, IL & Other Local Governments

Community Solar Toolkit

Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Team

  • Basics of community solar gardens

  • Thinking about your local government’s role

  • Community Solar Developer & Operator Questions  

  • Community Solar Garden Subscriber Questions




Access for All: Pathways to Expand Solar Options to Renters and Multifamily Households in the City of Seattle

Interstate Renewable Energy Council – 2017

This guide from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council outlines two potential pathways to enable greater solar access for renters, multifamily residents, and low-moderate income communities in Seattle. The first pathway is on-site shared solar that allows energy from a single solar system to be shared virtually among multiple tenant accounts. The second pathway is off-site/remote shared solar which allows multiple dispersed customers to share the economic benefits of a single renewable energy system. The guide further describes each pathway by mentioning specific mechanisms, challenges, and opportunities. It also discusses what is needed, who is involved, and how these programs are enacted.


Grow Solar, “Local Government Solar Toolkit: Illinois – Planning, Zoning, and Permitting”  (June 2017)

This guide includes a comprehensive plan guide to update land use plans, model zoning ordinances, and a local government permitting checklist.

GRID Alternatives, Vote Solar, and Center for Social Inclusion, "Low-Income Solar Policy Guide" (2017)

"[A]ll low-income solar programs should adopt the following basic principles:

  • Accessibility and Affordability
  • Community Engagemetn
  • Consumer Protection
  • Sustainability and Flexibility
  • Compatibility and Integration"


3 Cool Ways to Finance Community Solar Projects


Describes three approaches to assisting organizations and potential subscribers with the upfront costs of participating in solar projects:
(1) revolving fund;
(2) tax equity loans using the project’s investment tax credit; and
(3) loan loss reserves.

Shared Solar: Current Landscape, Market Potential, and the Impact of Federal Securities Regulation

Feldman, D. et al – 2015

This document looks at the shared solar energy market as a whole. It also estimates the market potential for community shared solar energy systems in the United States. Its main discussion focuses on the need for policies and regulations to be supportive of these shared solar energy initiatives.

"Emerging business models for solar deployment have the potential to dramatically develop the solar market, expanding the potential customer base to 100% of homes and businesses. Options such as shared solar can enable rapid, widespread deployment by increasing access to renewables on readily available land and rooftop sites, lowering costs via economies of scale, and fostering innovation....  By aggregating customer demand, shared solar programs can reduce financial and technical barriers to entry and lower costs via economies of scale." (p. 3-4)