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Roofless Solar Coming to Texas Community

The roofless solar program works like a community garden, where neighbors all plant vegetables in one place instead of maintaining their own plots at individual homes. In this community garden, the harvest is solar energy.

(TNS) -- Tucked between farm fields off U.S. 87 in East Bexar County, CPS Energy’s newest solar installation will soon host 11,280 panels generating power for specific customers across San Antonio.

On Monday, CPS Energy offered a first look at its “roofless solar” installation, a 10-acre site near Loop 1604 south of St. Hedwig. The site is CPS Energy’s first attempt to make solar panels available to customers who cannot install them on their own homes or businesses.

“This allows you to go solar without even having a house,” said Cris Eugster, CPS vice president and chief generation and strategy officer.

Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado company, is managing the project for CPS. Founded in 2009, it has developed 40 shared solar sites across 12 states. It also has a 8,040-panel project in Jim Wells County.

Workers at the CPS site were still installing panels Monday. Using sun-tracking technology that installers say boosts power generation by 15 percent over stationary systems, these panels will have a combined 1.2 megawatts of generating capacity.

Clean Energy Collective expects to start producing power in the next three to four weeks, Associate Vice President Todd Davidson said.

The roofless solar program works like a community garden, where neighbors all plant vegetables in one place instead of maintaining their own plots at individual homes. In this community garden, the harvest is solar energy.

For example, a customer could sign a contract for 5 kilowatts of solar, which corresponds to the generating capacity of 46 solar panels, which Clean Energy Collective will install at the roofless solar site, Davidson said.

Each 107.5-watt panel would cost the customer $202, after factoring in a CPS solar rebate and 30-percent federal tax credit. Each panel would help that customer save an average of $23.19 on their electric bill in the first year, or $4,980 over the 25-year life of the contract, according to Clean Energy Collective.

For the use of 46 panels, a customer would effectively pay $9,292, factoring in the rebate and the tax credit. After paying a 10 percent deposit to Clean Energy Collective, the customer would make the full payment when the system comes online later this month or in early August, Davidson said. Financing is available, he said.

Those 46 panels combined would generate an estimated $1,067 in annual credits to the customer’s CPS electric bill. Clean Energy Collective will operate and maintain the panels at no additional cost, Davidson said.

That’s possible because Clean Energy Collective’s business model involves the creation of a unique limited liability corporation and an associated trust for every customer, he said. Part of the customer’s initial purchase and a small portion of the monthly credits go into that trust to cover operation and maintenance costs, Davidson explained.

“If we go out of business, if we’re bought, you the consumer in the (solar) array and array itself are protected,” he said. “It’s set up to ensure that the money is there to take care of it and take care of you.”

The equipment is expected to last 50 years, he said, though the customers’ contracts with Clean Energy Collective last 25 years.

Customers could sell their panels, if necessary. In that circumstance, Clean Energy Collective will facilitate the transaction, Davidson said. The customer can find a buyer or the company can contact someone on a waiting list. In some instances, Clean Energy Collective has bought the panels back directly, he said.

If customers moves within CPS’ territory, the monthly credits from their panels move with them, he said.

Potential customers can sign up online at CPSenergyrooflesssolar.com or by calling Clean Energy Collective at 1-844-CEC-SALE. A company representative will then help them decide on a solar system that best matches the use at a customer’s home or business.

“I’m very excited to see us growing the future here at the solar farm,” said Anita Ledbetter, director of Build San Antonio Green, which is promoting the program for CPS. “I’m going to predict this farm is going to sell out pretty quickly.”

In fact, room for customers in the roofless solar program is already running out, officials said. Since September, CPS has been taking reservations since it publicized the roofless solar initiative in local media and on its website, spokeswoman Yvonne Casanova said. Roughly 72 percent of the capacity has already been reserved, Davidson said.

New customers will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis, Casanova said.

Among those customers with reserved space is Universal City, which has an electric utility that reserved 77 kilowatts of capacity, CPS local government relations program manager Rolando Hinojosa said.

Eugster called this first installation a pilot program. “If it is successful, we could expand it quite easily,” he said.

The roofless solar program is separate from CPS’ SolarHost initiative, which let customers sign up to host solar panels for free on their homes and receive a small monthly credit on their bills. After getting more than 5,000 applications, CPS has stopped taking new ones for that program, Ledbetter said.

CPS also has a rebate program that reimburses customers for a portion of the cost of installing panels directly on their roofs. Roofless solar panels can qualify for the rebate, according to CPS.

©2016 the San Antonio Express-News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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