Community-Owned Solar Gardens Make Waves

It's like a community garden, but with solar panels!

Posted by Katie Marks | G+ | Jan 06, 2014
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Photo: Abi Skipp/FlickrFor years now, communities have been taking advantage of public lots to built community gardens, allotments, and other community spaces where those without room to garden at home can have a place to do so. These initiatives have been extremely successful in many regions, helping people stabilize their food supply, get more fresh fruits and vegetables, connect directly with their food, and get out and about. So it's not surprising to see the tactic applied to farming other things. Like, say, electricity.

Yes, that's right: several cities are considering or have installed community-owned solar gardens, which operate much like you probably think they do. Individual members of the community invest in the solar garden and receive a return in the form of a rebate on their electrical bills, reflecting the energy generated in the solar garden installed and managed by community electricians. (We can only hope that the solar garden also plays pop music to excite the solar cells.)

It's a way to allow people who can't install solar panels on their property to benefit from the technology, and to help communities develop energy independence. As more and more towns and cities across the US express concerns about the source of their energy and the need for sustainable energy, solar gardens are starting to seem increasingly appealing: a community can generate all or part of the power it needs with its own solar panels, and in some cases wind farms as well.

The solar garden represents an indirect method of alternative energy generation, in that people aren't powering their homes with solar power using their own panels, but it does reduce the demand for electricity in a given town by feeding solar power through the grid. Power companies in turn provide rebates to the solar garden just like they would individual consumers, and these rebates are distributed amongst those who are partnering in the initiative.

This concept is one among many initiatives across the United States to turn away from unsustainable methods of energy generation, and in doing so, to also build community. The great thing about community-owned solar gardens is that they provide an opportunity for all members of a community to get involved with solar panels, including renters, people without structures suitable for solar panels, those with heavily shaded yards (of course, your Phoenix landscaper may be able to help with that), and people facing other issues like financial barriers to installing full solar arrays. By democratizing energy independence, solar gardens make alternative energy affordable.

Furthermore, initiatives to install such gardens can be led by anyone in a community, and by any community organization. This encourages people to get involved on a local level, and to spread access to solar energy even if they themselves can afford it and have homes or businesses suited to it. In the coming years, we may see an explosion of community-owned solar gardens across the US, along with wind and wave farms owned by their own communities, instead of energy companies.

Katie Marks writes for

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