"Community Power, the next step in renewable energy for Oregonians"
By Stanley Florek
Chief Executive Officer, Tangerine Power
Getting your energy from all-natural sources may seem out of reach. If you rent, or live in a condo, you probably aren’t allowed to install electrical equipment on the roof of your neighbor’s unit. In some cases, trees, buildings, or mountains block your access to the sun or wind. Many Oregon residents don’t have or don’t want to spend the up-front cash required to buy onsite generation equipment even with all the incentives available. Finally, it’s hard to understand how power systems work and the status quo of flipping on the lights is easy. Community Power is emerging as one way for everyone to produce clean energy. In some cases it will make them money as micro-energy entrepreneurs!
Community power has been a multi-billion dollar industry in northern Europe for over a decade. In Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, public policies have made it relatively easy to connect to the grid and make money by selling power on long-term contracts. These conditions are friendly to small power system developers, producing a boom in local energy production and making northern Europe the global leader in solar and wind production. One example: a short distance off Copenhagen’s shore is the largest community-owned windfarm in the world. Developed by a dedicated group of local citizens, this 20-turbine utility-scale masterpiece was financed mainly through selling affordable 570-euro shares in a cooperative to over 8,500 members of the general public for a total of 27 million Euro. After looking at the favorable economics of the project, the local utility partnered with the citizen developers to build another 10 turbines at the same site. The 40 Megawatt wind complex produces citizen-shareholder dividends averaging 7.5% annually. What’s the downside? Not much. People who are making money off their investment tend to see wind turbines on the horizon as gorgeous.
Copenhagen Community Owned Wind Farm
Here in Oregon, Ashland’s electric utility pioneered a voluntary green power program called Solar Pioneers in which ratepayers voluntarily “adopted” solar panels on local public buildings and in a later version were rewarded with credits on their electric bill based on how much energy their solar shares generated. The Solar CREEK group in Corvallis created an innovative 3rd-party ownership model for solar energy systems on area nonprofits and schools. Oregon Interfaith Power & Light is helping faith groups in Eugene and Salem to solarize their Churches through investments from congregants. These efforts are prototypes from which even more ambitious community power projects will be forged.
Ashland Community Solar
Solar Creek project Corvallis
Feed In Tariffs are the policy known globally for enabling community power systems of all sizes to get financed and built. The Oregon Solar Feed In Tariff Pilot Program is a twist on the European Energy Payment scheme. Participants in Oregon’s program get a 15 year contract to sell power to their utility, which is good. However, caps on system size and total capacity make this program more of a touch-typing contest crossed with a casino. So far only property owners & their installers who submit their online application in the first 10 minutes of opening for business have won contracts to sell their power at the offered rates.
Eugene Methodist Church
Denmark & Germany now top the world in per-capita natural energy production and also in producing related equipment. Perhaps there is a correlation between a friendly environment for community energy development and robust economic development. We would expect that if everyone is benefitting from clean energy development through more local jobs, secure profits on transparent local investments, and increased taxes for vital public services, we’ll see increasing support for clean energy even in places where it’s traditionally been a tough sell. If our leaders could meet the huge latent demand for green power sales contracts Oregon might start to touch Northern Europe in terms of $B’s for jobs, and free fuel once the development costs are paid off. That is a sweet future indeed.
More Information for Aspiring Community Power developers:
Paul Gipe presentation on Advanced Renewable Tariffs: http://www.wind-works.org/FeedLaws/USA/Gipe%20GACC%20Energy%20Forum%20October%202010.pdf
Experiences from Middelgrunden 40 MW Offshore Wind Farm:
A Guide to Community Solar:
http://www.nwseed.org/documents/ComSolarGuide.pdf. Prepared for National Renewable Energy Laboratory by Northwest SEED, Keyes and Fox, Stoel Rives, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
Community Renewables Model Program Rules: http://irecusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/IREC-Community-Renewables-Report-11-16-10_FINAL.pdf. Interstate Renewable Energy Council
Emerging Case Study: Community Solar at Francis Anderson Community Center, Edmonds, WA
The Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative (ECSC) was sold its first solar memberships on Dec 13th, 2010. The project team’s goal is to get up to 75 kilowatts of domestically-made Solar Panels installed and generating energy for the Francis Anderson Community Center in Downtown Edmonds. The Cooperative is working closely with solar developer Tangerine Power and non-profit group Sustainable Edmonds to build grass roots buzz and participation in the program.
The project is designed to take full advantage of the Washington State Production Incentive available to Community Solar projects by purchasing panels and inverters made in Washington State. The production incentive behaves like a mini-Feed In Tariff in that it pays a fixed price for all of your green power production through 2020. The coop will also apply for the recently extended US Treasury Grant under section 1603 of the federal tax code to provide a cash rebate of 30% of the project costs.
Individuals and organizations that buy memberships in the project are expected to see their original investment amount returned to them by the 10th year, when the initial roof lease ends. At the 10th year, the Cooperative members will decide democratically what they want to do with the array, and will entertain options like renewing their lease with the city, selling the array to the city, or relocating it to a nearby roof.
The City of Edmonds is excited by the prospect of obtaining the energy from the project at big savings compared to grid power. The City does not have to contribute a penny in initial project costs; it just provides roof access rights to receive discounted power from the sun.
This project shows how a little collaboration between citizens and their local government can generate community wealth from of a blank bit of roof space.
In Germany, Denmark, & the Netherlands over 40% of utility-scale wind turbines are owned by groups of individual local investors.
Ontario, Canada’s Feed in Tariff program signed $1B in new development contracts for clean energy systems that are locally owned, and $7B overall, in the last 12 months.
-Paul Gipe, WindWorks
“Individuals, companies and organizations … are forging new models of problem solving … models that rely less on central control and more on getting a self-organizing critical mass of people and organizations working to initiate small experiments and social innovations that can mushroom into pervasive changes in societal behavior. Put simply, these individuals and organizations have learned how to tap into the world’s decentralized sources of knowledge and capability using an approach that mobilizes not just the world’s largest companies and nations, but a whole ecosystem of citizens and organizations around the globe.”
- Macrowikinomics, p. 18