Viewpoints

Looking to the sun to brighten your local economy

By Fritz Kreiss

Traditionally economic development has required communities to possess the attractive elements that entice businesses to locate in a particular place; whether it is transportation systems, utility infrastructure, or an educated and skilled workforce. Communities without these essentials are plagued with economic stagnation, while the cost to acquire these features may sink a community before it ever sees any benefits.  In the last few years though, a solution has come available to communities of all sizes to improve their economy without massive capital expenditures: community solar gardens.

So what are community solar gardens?  Quite simply, community solar gardens involve the development of a central array of solar photovoltaic panels on municipal property, with the rights to the production value of those panels being sold to community residents and small businesses. This process spurs economic growth in many ways:

  • First, the development and construction of the solar array will bring an influx of capital to the locality; third party organizations with access to the capital needed to build large scale solar facilities.  This means your community can allocate its municipal resources toward other purposes, of which there is never a shortage.
  • With this influx of capital, comes local jobs and local spending.  Someone has to build this array, and depending on its size, this will lead to the employment of dozens, or even hundreds of local construction professionals. And throughout the construction process, which can take a month or two, these workers will be spending money at local restaurants and shops; putting more money back into the local economy.
  • Once the solar array has been constructed and is generating electricity, it will begin casting its economic benefits throughout the community. Those who have subscribed to the system (i.e. purchased panels) will begin receiving a credit on their monthly electric bill. For most, this will serve as “found money” and found money tends to be spent. While you can’t make people spend that money at local businesses, incentives can be offered through the community solar garden interfacing to encourage people to “buy local”, such as discounts or promotions to solar garden subscribers. This should be an important aspect of any community solar garden program because it allows your community to take advantage of the local multiplier effect.  Through the local multiplier effect you can help keep as much as 3 times of community spending within the community, which in the context of a community solar garden can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions depending on the project size, throughout the life of the program.
  • It should also be noted that community solar gardens provide significant solar cost savings for community residents. Utilizing the principals of bulk purchasing, those that subscribe to a community solar garden can save up to 50% compared to installing a similar system on their own property. That will leave residents interested in solar with several thousand dollars more in their pocket, available to spend locally.

And while it’s easy to get lost in the economic value and benefits of community solar gardens, it’s also good to remember that their value extends beyond the economic realm.

  • A Social Service.  Because 75% of people are unable to install solar on their own property due to renting, shading, structural issues, etc., community solar gardens provide these individuals an opportunity to invest in and receive solar energy.
  • Clean and renewable energy.  Whether your community has established sustainability goals that you’re trying to reach or you would simply like to market your community as environmentally friendly, community solar gardens provide a highly visible element of sustainability.
  • An aesthetic solution.  With homeowners associations and communities at large increasingly restricting the ability of individuals to install solar systems on homes, mainly for beatification reasons, community solar gardens provide a middle ground solution. Those that want solar power can still have it, without the need for dozens of ill-conforming solar panels located throughout the neighborhood.

Nothing will ever replicate the economic boon that a large multi-national corporation may have on a community by simply locating there, but the likes of Google can’t locate everywhere. Rather than succumbing to the challenges of economic development, just look to the Sun and it will shine the way to better days for your community.

Fritz Kreiss is the founder of Community Green Energy.

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What's Viewpoints?

It features the Editor's Viewpoints and contributed commentaries.

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

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Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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