Solar Gardens

Welcome to Good Dirt Radio… reporting on positive solutions taking root.

Enough sunlight hits the Earth’s surface every hour to power the entire world for a year! Capturing it is the challenge. But, as they say… we’ve got our best people working on it. Added incentive has come from the volatile price of fossil fuels-as reserves dwindle, and the increasing push toward renewables for the sake of climate stability. Although the cost of solar panels has decreased significantly, many folks either rent, have shaded roofs or yards, live in condominiums or can’t afford to install a complete system. But a new model of utility scale, community owned solar installations is sprouting up. It‘s a timely idea, which is attracting interest and funding.

Solar Gardens are a brainchild of Paul Spencer, of Carbondale, CO, founder the Clean Energy Collective. An electrical engineer and self-described serial-entrepreneur, Spencer has a passion for cutting edge environmental and renewable energy technologies. His vision is to help everyone have access to clean energy and to being part of a practical solution to climate change. Individuals or businesses can invest in one panel or many, then enjoy the energy, and financial benefits… while offsetting climate changing pollution from fossil fuel sources.

Spencer: A Solar Garden is a concentrated area in which we put a large scale solar array that then is owned by individuals in the local area. It allows anybody to actually own solar panels but not on their home, instead in an optimally sited utility scale solar project and then to reap the benefits of that by being credited directly on their utility bill every month for all the power that was produced by their individual panels. Only roughly 15% of Americans can own solar on their own facility today, for variety of reasons from shading to proper orientation to having the right roof pitch to even owning your own roof. What community Solar Gardens do is allow that accessibility to absolutely everybody that has an electric bill. So I could rent and live under shade or in a cave and I can own solar panels that are optimally positioned in a community array that produces as much clean energy as possible which is return on my investment both financially as well as environmentally.
Spencer describes a few benefits of a typical community solar array.
Spencer: The first, most primary benefit is that these are very good financial investments. The majority of people want to be part of helping the environment and reducing their carbon footprint but we’re also subject to the fact that everybody wants a good investment in doing so. We build large-scale solar arrays so we’re able to bring down the price point to every single individual whether you’re buying one panel or 1000 panels. They include all the operation and maintenance to operate the array on behalf of the customers for 50 years, so they’re deliberately built to produce as much clean power, which equates to revenue to the consumer, as physically possible.
Solar Gardens can offer investors, large or small, an attractive return, especially in today’s economy.
Spencer: It depends on the utility but essentially the payback is stronger than any other type of mechanism today in the stock market or a bond or CD or something of that nature. Most of our utilities average somewhere between a 6 and 10% return on investment year one, giving you a solid return that is largely tax-free, at 6 to 10%. Additionally, its hedging your bet against rising energy prices because you now own your own energy source and as energy prices inflate, so does the value of your energy source. We’re able to sell single panels, much much smaller systems, and people can do that for a couple hundred dollars and then incrementally purchase more panels as they can afford them. We see Solar Gardens as a good opportunity for individuals to band together and make good financial as well as environmental decisions that can create a quantum leap in clean energy generation, not only in our local areas but across the country.
Spencer says starting a Solar Garden can be complex but the Clean Energy Cooperative has a clear blueprint of the process and is willing to help others start their own community arrays. We urge you to connect with neighbors, family and friends to consider starting your own Solar Garden.

Change comes from the bottom up when we learn about options and take action. For more information about Solar Gardens, please visit us at

I’m Tami Graham and I’m Tom Bartels. Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news…. for a change.

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