Sharing economy goes green; New type of solar farms across Texas to yield a bright bumper crop


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JW Postal with Clean Energy Collective leads a discussion about the rise of community solar farms. Enlarge

JW Postal with Clean Energy Collective leads a discussion about the rise of community… more

Sergio Chapa

JW Postal with Clean Energy Collective leads a discussion about the rise of community solar farms.

The renewables market continues to grow in Texas where at least 20 "community solar" projects are scheduled to either be built or come online this summer.

With the Lone Star State expected to have 14 gigawatts of solar power on the grid, most of the focus has been on utility scale and rooftop projects. But a Wednesday morning panel discussion at the Solar Power Southwest Conference at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort reveals that so-called community solar is starting to heat up in Texas.

Many homeowners are hot on purchasing solar panels and receiving credits on their monthly light bills based on production. Advocates said community solar fills in the gaps by allowing renters and those homeowners restricted by covenants or with large shade trees on their property to purchase panels at these off-site, third-party solar farms to take advantage of those credits as well.

Kevin Brehm with the Rocky Mountain Institute's Shine Initiative said community solar is now in a "sweet spot" between utility scale solar and costly rooftop projects.

Clean Energy Collective Chief Operating Officer JW Postal told the Business Journal that the Colorado-based company is building two community solar farms in Texas. The first is a 1.2 megawatt solar farm just east of San Antonio in Adkins while the second is just west of Corpus Christi in Orange Grove.

"We like Texas for the sunshine and we like Texas for their business opportunities," Postal said.

San Antonio's municipally owned utility company, CPS Energy, is partnering with CEC on the Adkins facility while Robstown-based utility company NEC Retail is the partner for the Orange Grove facility.

With 31 percent of its panels already booked, the San Antonio project is expected to come online in late July. Postal said about 16 percent of the panels for the NEC Project have been booked but is expected to come on-line before the Fourth of July. Postal said CEC is expected to hold marketing events for both projects over the next few weeks.

Postal said he expects to see larger community solar projects in Texas and across the United States as the cost of solar continues to come down.

"You do have slightly higher costs, but as the scale of community solar goes up, those extra costs do come down," Postal said. "We're also adding software to eliminate a lot of the redundancies in people costs, so you don't have to continually staff up."

Just north of San Antonio, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative has partnered with British-owned RES Americas to build between 15 to 20 community solar sites that will produce a combined 15 megawatts of electricity.

PEC Energy Research and Strategies Director Peter Muhoro said the utility had looked at several options and decided that a 15 megawatt power purchase agreement with a buyout option worked best for their customers.

Muhoro said in the founding days of the cooperative, landowners would each chip in $5 or $10 to bring electricity to rural communities. From a philosophical point of view, community solar is no different.

"It's what cooperatives do everyday," Muhoro said.

JW Postal with Clean Energy Collective leads a discussion about the rise of community solar farms.