Communities across the country face major hurdles to constructing solar power infrastructure. Inadequate funds, few options for financing, and a lack of government tax credits puts clean energy solutions out of reach for many residents, businesses and municipalities.
To overcome these challenges, several large institutions in the City of Decorah, Iowa have banded together to create a community solar program. Solar panels are traditionally tied to one meter at one location. The newly proposed shared solar program would integrate the city’s solar, allowing for local off-site solar generation to be dispersed throughout the community.
The proposal would benefit all parties involved. Consumers will have greater access to community generated clean power. Utilities will have only one solar field to meter rather than dozens. Communities will be empowered to make local decisions about their energy sources.
The project may serve as a pilot program, offering utilities and consumers a chance to determine whether shared solar is the right fit for their community. Regardless, community leaders across Iowa have decided to take action and implement clean energy solutions for their residents. They have coalesced with a strong unity to pressure utilities. And finally, they have pushed officials to adopt policies that make community solar projects more viable in the future.
Although community solar is not officially sanctioned in Iowa, a half-dozen large institutions in one town are angling to create a “shared solar” array that they envision would allow them to generate solar power more economically than each could do individually.
“People have been asking for this for quite some time,” said Andy Johnson, director of the Winneshiek Energy District and the organizer of the project. “Iowa is not one of the handful of states that have legislation enabling community solar. People don’t have the automatic option for community solar here, but there is a great deal of interest.”
“In Iowa, as elsewhere, about half of customers don’t have the option for behind-the-meter solar,” Johnson said, due to lack of an appropriate site or other obstacles.