Community Solar Concept A Big Hit At Michigan Energy Fair

Date: June 17, 2013

Story originally published on on June 9, 2013.

By: Matt Roush

Note: MAREC is offering a four-session workshop on Community Solar, the topic of this article. The workshop will be held Tuesday evenings from July 9 through 30. More information and registration

Remember this phrase: Community solar.

energy fair
A 1.6-megawatt wind turbine in Mason County's Lake Winds
Energy Park. (Image originally published on

It may just be the way solar energy finally fulfills its promise of cheap, clean electricity.

The dedication of a new community solar installation in Traverse City Friday was the buzz on Saturday at the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association’s  Michigan Energy Fair in Ludington.

Basically, a community solar installation is a lot like a community garden. A group of people pool their money and labor and enjoy the results.

In Traverse City, the Cherryland Electric Cooperative — later joined by Traverse City Light & Power, a municipality — decided to offer customers the chance to buy a single solar panel for $470. Once they did, the electricity generated by that particular solar panel would be credited to their bills.

It was a way for customers to buy as much or as little solar power as they wanted to or could afford, without the bank-breaking cost of a solar installation big enough to power a house (which can run $10,000 to $30,000).

The response was overwhelming, according to GLREA board member Dave Konkle, energy programs manager for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Cherryland Co-op figured it would sell 48 panels in the initial offering, but sold 80, and ongoing demand is so strong it’s adding two more 72-panel arrays.

The average annual return on investment for the people buying the solar panels is about 5 percent, Konkle said, with full payback in about 15 years.

“We think this is a great way to create more solar energy in Michigan,” Konkle said of the community solar concept. “Lots of people can’t install solar because they rent or they don’t have a good location on their property…  There are ways you can buy solar from utilities but you don’t get anything back from it. This (community solar) allows you to invest affordably in solar and get some of the ownership benefits.”

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