Transitioning to clean energy – for example, owning an electric car or installing solar panels – is commonly touted as a proactive measure for helping the environment.

Last year, ECOSS conducted outreach on electrical vehicles to understand communities’ concerns about buying and owning electrical vehicles. Communities of color are overwhelmingly interested in clean technology, but they do not always have the information or resources to invest judiciously. ECOSS subsequently helped raise awareness of financial incentives and assuage concerns around vehicle maintenance.

There are many models for community solar. A couple examples are (a) solar farms that people can buy into and (b) solar panels installed onto the roof of a public building for the benefit of those who use it.

Now, ECOSS is expanding its clean energy program into solar. Similar to electrical vehicles, there are financial incentives for owning solar panels – namely the money saved from generating solar energy. But those benefits only materialize after purchase, thus creating a financial barrier.

Community solar is one approach to lowering the financial barrier to owning solar energy technology. Rather than foist the upfront cost of solar panels on a single individual or household, community solar distributes that burden among a collective of stakeholders. Some projects involve residents buying shares of solar energy from a solar farm that reduce their utility bills. Others are centered on public spaces like schools. There are many models for community solar, but they all share a goal of democratizing solar technology.

Outreach and engagement promotes community buy-in and more sustainable solutions. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

ECOSS is teaming up with Spark Northwest and Emerald Cities to bring community solar to affordable housing — a first in Washington State. Spark Northwest is a leader in clean energy solutions, and Emerald Cities has extensive experience in working with low-income housing. These two organizations complement ECOSS’ expertise in community outreach and connections within communities of color.

Community solar projects present unique challenges in comparison to private solar installations. ECOSS’ project is centered on a multi-family housing complex, whose tenants will be the beneficiaries, which raises difficult questions such as:

  • Who owns the project? The developer installing the solar panels? The housing authority? The residents?
  • How will financial kickbacks be distributed? Should they be disbursed to individuals or collected into a community pool?
  • When does ownership of the solar panels transfer to the community?

As negotiations progress, ECOSS will engage housing residents to ensure that their thoughts and feedback are heard. If successful, this pioneering project can form the basis for community solar at other multi-family properties. Look forward to more news about community solar in the coming months!

Learn more about clean energy outreach

This is but a brief look into community solar. Learn more about community solar models through our partner, Spark Northwest.

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