Connecting & Activating Vermont Communities

Community Solar Models and Approaches

There are many “community solar” solutions and no “one-size-fits-all” approach. There is, however, good reason to go solar ASAP, since federal and state incentives – including the federal 30% investment tax credit – will be significantly reduced (or unavailable, period) after 2016.

OUR DEFINITION OF COMMUNITY SOLAR: A solar solution for municipalities, schools, institutions and anyone who can’t go solar on their own for one reason or another, such as lacking adequate access to the sun (on their rooftops or land) or renting.*

While going solar is a good economic and environmental investment, figuring out the best way to do so isn’t always easy. There are generally two group types considering these projects – individuals who can’t go solar on their own home or land for one reason or another and institutions, such as Municipalities, Schools, Hospitals and Churches. Sometimes, the goals or limitations of institutions are a little different too. Check out some resources specific to these groups on our School and Municipal Solar page, which features a model/template contract and an implementation guide.

For individuals interested in community solar, there are three basic approaches:

1.  A “third party ownership/partnership” model.” This is more “off-the-shelf,” easy and lower risk but often offers a lower financial-reward. Its primary characteristics are ease, swiftness and certainty, largely because of a partnership with a third-party installer who often manages the financing, construction, development, operation and maintenance of the system. This model is often used for schools, municipalities and institutions – who want to minimize management and risk – as well as an attractive solution for individuals who simply and easily want to secure the financial and environmental benefits of solar. Check out our growing collection of third party ownership/partnership case studies:

2.  A “direct community ownership” model. This approach is a more custom, creative and complicated but often a more financially rewarding approach that could help keep more dollars circulating in your community – and in Vermont. There are lots of community-led approaches, showcasing great innovation, tenacity and commitment. We highlight several of them and also offer some model documents that might help interested Vermonters emulate these inspiring approaches. For more on this, check out our case studies:

3.  A “utility ownership/partnership” model. This approach is a utility owned/operated project, open to voluntary customer participation. Examples of these subscription based projects can be found below:

Disclaimer: These online resources compiled by VNRC are intended to help outline many of the issues, considerations and approaches to go solar. There are many permutations of solar models so we tried to coalesce similar approaches under three headings. It’s not perfect. These resources are also not comprehensive and, since the solar landscape changes constantly, potentially outdated. 

We highly recommend that anyone interested in entering into a community solar arrangement seek and secure the advice of an attorney who specializes in this field before signing any contract or agreement. Using any templates or reference to any provisions in this guide is at the users discretion, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council is not responsible or liable for any agreements or actions related to the use of this document or accompanying contracts or frameworks.