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Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities

In this paper, we explore whether community solar can: • Overcome existing financial and institutional barriers to collectively-owned solar. Financial barriers include barriers to accessing federal tax incentives (the 30% tax credit and accelerated depreciation), rules that make it hard to raise capital (e.g. securities laws), and rules that prohibit easy sharing of electricity generation among geographically dispersed owners. • Increase the number of people who can invest in and own decentralized solar power. Increasing participation means opening solar investment to people who traditionally cannot (i.e. renters or those with shady property). Increasing ownership means that participants are legal owners of their share of the community solar project, rather than holding a license or lease. • Offer an affordable opportunity to “go solar.” Good community solar policy will make community solar projects cost the same or less than individual ownership and preferably offer participants a good return on investment. • Disperse the economic benefits of solar power development. Dispersing the benefits means broadening participation and more importantly ownership of solar power, so that the economic benefits accrue to many, varied investors. • Tap unused space on existing structures rather than open ground for solar modules. Solar PV is uniquely suited among renewable energy technologies to claim unused roof-space and tap into the grid inexpensively in areas of high demand. Using open space for solar cedes one of its major technical advantages. • Replicate. Community solar can only accomplish the first five goals if it’s easy to duplicate a project model.
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