Community solar is making clean, renewable energy more accessible to everyone. It is a way entire communities can work together through utility partnerships to establish solar installations. These then produce at least a portion of the energy needed by the community, which subscribers can access for homes or for business use. Now even those who rent their homes, live in a site unsuitable for solar or do not have a budget for solar installation, can invest in a solar photovoltaic system as part of a community. Participants typically receive a credit on their electric bills each month representing their portion of the community solar power generation.
Here is how the United States Department of Energy defines community solar: “…any solar project or purchasing program, within a geographic area, in which the benefits of a solar project flow to multiple customers such as individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and other groups.” Currently government statistics show active community solar projects in 39 states, representing 3,200 megawatts of capacity for energy production.
Often community solar is owned or operated by a public electric utility. Community solar could also be part of a nonprofit model or a special business enterprise. Solar Alliance is currently working to complete its second and third community solar projects.
Kentucky residents and business owners are getting the chance to be a part of community solar called the Solar Share Program. It eliminates up-front costs for participants while costing them less than twenty cents per day, according to Louisville Gas & Electric/Kentucky Utilities (LG&E/KU).
LG&E/KU chose Solar Alliance Southeast to engineer and construct four of the six stages of its Solar Share installation. This serves the greater Louisville, Kentucky area. SASE completed installation of one megawatt of power in 2021 and is working in 2022 to complete the additional half-megawatt of power, for 1.5 megawatts total. This is a large ground-mounted array of photovoltaic panels built in Simpsonville, Kentucky.
Knoxville, Tennessee’s first ever community solar array is under construction in West Knoxville, adjacent to Interstate 40 just east of Papermill Drive. The community came together in April 2022 for the groundbreaking of this project that had been years in the planning. Making this happen are Knoxville Utilities Board, the City of Knoxville, the Tennessee Valley Authority and project contractor Solar Alliance Southeast.
This installation will cover a three-acre site next to the city’s Public Works Facility, making use of a a brownfield area. The pne-megawatt solar array is designed to create enough energy to offset the use of 100,000 gallons of gasoline each year. This part of the community’s larger commitment to use 20% solar energy by 2024 as part of TVA’s Green Invest program. Residents and business owners will soon be able to sign up for participation through KUB.
This is the third community solar installation designed and installed by Solar Alliance.
Solar Alliance, known in 2016 as Aries Energy, oversaw the installation of the first utility-scale community solar project in Tennessee. This was located in New Market in beautiful Jefferson County, not far from the Great Smoky Mountains. The array rests on seven acres near the New Market substation off Highway 11E.
This 1.37 megawatt site generates enough power from the sun for approximately 130 homes each year. Both residential and commercial members of Appalachian Electric Cooperative are able to subscribe to the Co-op Community Solar program. They can receive credits each month on their utility bills.