Solar Gardens: A Bright Idea for Homeowners?

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Homeowners looking to save money on their utility bills and improve energy efficiency are buying into community solar gardens.

If you’re interested in utilizing solar energy but unable (or unwilling) to install the panels on your own home, you may still be in luck. You might be able to plug into a community solar garden. They’re cropping up across the U.S.

Colorado pioneered the solar garden approach, which allows customers to buy into a solar array connected to the energy grid. The power their solar panels produce earns homeowners a credit on their utility bill.

Says The New York Times:

For developers, such shared or community solar arrays create a new market from the estimated 85 percent of residential customers who can neither own nor lease systems because their roofs are physically unsuitable for solar or because they do not control them — like renters and people living in large apartment buildings. And for those customers, it offers a way into the solar boom, whether they seek to contribute to the spread of clean energy or to reap the potential cost savings.

A solar garden in Colorado Springs recently sold out, and construction hasn’t even begun, The Gazette said. The solar garden (the nation’s largest) will include more than 10,000 panels, which is enough to power 500 homes, the Gazette said.

In Massachusetts, more than 80 percent of ratepayers are unable to install solar panels on their roofs, according to The Enterprise of Brockton, Mass. But for those people who still want an alternative to traditional utility options, solar gardens allow them to reap the benefits of solar energy with panels that are located elsewhere.

“The benefits are very similar to those of rooftop solar. You ultimately end up paying a price for electricity that is substantially lower than your current utility bill,” said Brian Greenfield, the chief operating officer of Next Step Living.

Greenfield said most people in Massachusetts experience a 7 to 10 percent return on their investment in a solar garden, in addition to being eligible for renewable energy credits.

Solar power has become more popular in recent years for a number of reasons, the Times said. The price of solar equipment and installation has dropped, and rather generous state and federal incentives have helped to increase people’s interest in solar.

Solar gardens seem like a win-win. In addition to saving you a few dollars, solar gardens provide an eco-friendly alternative to more traditional sources of electricity.

Do you use solar power or any other type of eco-friendly energy alternatives? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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