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Randolph Community Solar Array Makes Solar Affordable and Achievable for All

 
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Randolph solar array celebrates with a ribbon cutting
Photo credit: Jenevra Wetmore

Source: Jenevra Wetmore, EAN/Middlebury College Internship Program

​Community solar is different from installing panels on individual homes, and has lots of added benefits– read on to learn more!

How Does It Work?

The Randolph array is a community endeavor and functions like a cooperative. No one person owns the array. Instead, each member of the group owns one or more shares of the array. Each share has a 960 Watt capacity, so some members own more than others. Every member has the same electrical utility– Green Mountain Power– that credits the power from their shares to their monthly electric bill.

Peter Thoenen, who is on the town of Randolph Energy Advisory Committee, and his partner own two shares that will cover all their electricity for a full year. The shares are roughly $2,500 each.

Save Money, Just Like Buying in Bulk

Buying into community solar is a lot like buying in bulk. It is cheaper to buy into a larger project, like the Randolph array, than it is to install a smaller system on your own home. Even in a small house, installing solar can cost around $10,000; Peter and his partner are only spending $5,000 for their shares. As Peter said, “if I can get my energy locally from a very simple source, it’s money in the bank and it’s power in the grid.” The cost per Watt is reduced by more than 30% by buying in bulk and centralizing the instillation of panels, done by Catamount Solar, on a single site.

There is no developer to pay for organizing the project because it is a community effort.  After a recent clarification of tax code, you are also now able to claim solar electric property investment anywhere on the local grid you are connected to, receiving a 30% tax credit.  This credit applies to all members. This means that each member receives a 30% tax credit on the cost of his or her solar shares for two tax years.

Amy VanderKooi, a member of the solar array, expects her home’s payback to be 8 or 9 years. This means that it will take 8 or 9 years for the cost of the shares to be made up by the money that she has saved since buying them. She is already receiving a negative credit on her shares, which means that she is making more solar power with her shares than she is using, and the array has only been up and running since December 2015. 

Why Choose Community Solar?

Aside from the cost advantages, there are other reasons to choose community solar over a custom system installed at your home. Your community solar share can follow you wherever you go, as long as you keep Green Mountain Power as your electrical utility. For example, Cynthia and Giovanni Quilici, members of the array who own five shares, are planning to build a new house. They can easily keep using community solar if they decide to move. This also makes community solar a great option for renters.

Buying into solar projects like Randolph’s is also a great option for people who can’t or don’t want to put panels on their roof for whatever reason.

Local, Clean Power

The Randolph array is currently supplying 38 different families and 2 businesses with local, sustainable energy at a relatively low cost. As Amy VanderKooi said, “Our power is local, which is kind of a nice thing, and it’s clean.” If you needed any more reasons to consider community solar, think of it as a way for you to do something good for your community and the planet. Pete Thoenen said, “Vermont is really well positioned to develop renewable energy as the primary source of electric generation.” Help Vermont take the next step into renewable energy and look into community solar projects near you!

For more information on the Randolph community solar project, visit http://www.vermontsolarcooperative.org/community-solar/