Solar power is all well and good, but what if you don't own your house? Or your neighborhood is too shady? Or you simply can't afford the up-front costs of a large solar array?
That's where solar gardens can come in useful—allowing communities to club together to invest in a large, collective solar array—and then investors get a credit on their electricity bill for any energy generated. It's just one way to grow the kind of community-owned renewable energy capacity we've seen mushrooming in other parts of the world.
Back in 2010, Mat reported on Colorado's efforts to legalize solar gardens, and that effort appears to have paid off. Now Business Green reports that Fort Collins is actively encouraging the development of solar gardens, starting with a 300 kW array:
To that end the city's authorities are currently talking to prospective commercial partners who could deliver a 300kW 'solar garden' that people from across the community will be able to invest in. "The aim is to allow people who don't have the ability to install rooftop solar panels – because the roof isn't right or they have a tree shading their property – to get the same net metering benefit that they would have if they were able to put the solar on their roof," explains Catanach, confirming that FortZED is currently looking at several potential sites for the 'solar garden' within the city limits "because people want to be able to drive past and know they own part of that". He also predicts that if the project proves successful a second, larger development could be located out of town, allowing more people to take part in the scheme.
The scheme is part of a broader effort, called FortZED, which I reported on over at MNN. Other aspects of the scheme include development of a large wind farm and the trials of energy storage capacity and smart grid capabilities. Here's a video from Rocky Mountain Institute's eLab program about their role in moving FortZED forward:
What's most interesting about these solar gardens, and FortZED in general, is not the specific technologies being promoted. Rather, it's a reminder that when communities come together, and when businesses and the public sector collaborate effectively, it's possible to achieve much larger goals than any single entity could achieve on their own. And that's something that could have profound implications for communities across the country.
The Solar Gardens Institute is currently gathering contact information for Fort Collins residents interested in investing in a solar garden.