Less than 25 percent of Nebraskans' roofs are suitable for solar panel installation, either because of unfavorable property attributes, or because the customer does not own the home. The high costs of installing a solar panel system can also deter customers from owning it themselves. Because of these factors, many electric customers interested in solar power are not able to participate in customer-owned solar power generation. But community solar can be a way for customers to own part of a solar power system if they are not able to install a self-owned solar system.
Powering a home using the sun's energy is not a new concept by any means. With recent technological advances and lower costs, solar has become an attractive option. This promising source of renewable energy has also become increasingly accessible. Many public power districts and electric co-ops are offering community solar programs as an alternative to purchasing a rooftop solar array. This helps keep costs down and puts the burden of maintaining and operating the system on the utility.
Solar is booming, especially among utilities. In fact, public power districts and electric cooperatives are leading the electric utility industry in the development of a type of solar called "community" solar. This "shared" solar model allows utilities to develop an array for members who can either purchase the power or lease panels. A community solar program makes solar more equitable for consumers who are unable to install rooftop solar because of tree shading, renting rather than owning or a number of other factors.
If the costs make sense and you have a roof suitable for solar, a rooftop solar array can be a great way to reduce your monthly energy bill and help the environment, but please be aware of the costs and responsibilities. Talk to your local electric utility before installing solar PV on your home to find out if they offer a community solar program for a better price (without the hassle of maintaining a system yourself), what their policies regarding member-owned generation are and to ask for advice on maintaining the system.
Community solar can be a viable alternative to customer-owned solar power system. Under this setup, public power districts or electric co-ops install and operate a single large solar array. Individual utility members purchase or lease a portion (as small as a quarter panel), with the electricity generated credited directly to the member's electric bill. While the financial payback may or may not cover the monthly lease or up-front payment, consumers can support renewable energy without making permanent changes to their home.
Remember, always contact your electric utility before installing any renewable, backyard distributed generation system. Specific interconnection rules will apply and are designed to protect the safety of the electric grid and lineworkers, especially during outages. Your public power district or electric co-op can also help you sort through these financing options to ensure that you make the right decision.
Customers who either purchase or lease panels in a community solar power project receive, in proportion to their participation, the actual kilowatt-hour generation of the community solar power installation, in the form of a credit to their electric bills for the life of the system.
Sun Wise is a community solar program available in participating Nebraska Public Power District retail communities. Eligible customers have the opportunity to use solar energy to partially power their homes and businesses without the need to invest in a rooftop or home-based system. Participating communities in Nebraska include Venango, Scottsbluff and Kearney.