NRG partners with SunShare on community solar in Colorado

NRG Renew, a subsidiary of energy giant NRG Energy, and community solar specialist SunShare, today launched a strategic alliance to finance and construct a portfolio of community solar projects along Colorado’s Front Range, including Denver and Colorado Springs.

The initial portfolio, including five ground-mounted projects with a combined capacity of 10 MW, is scheduled for completion in mid-2015. SunShare will offer the output from the plants to homeowners, renters, businesses and public-sector entities under 20-year power purchase agreements. Customers then receive a credit on their utility bills.

David Amster-Olszewski, founder and president of SunShare, called the alliance with NRG Renew in Colorado "the first step of many." The two companies are exploring opportunities in additional states as well, such as Texas and Massachusetts, he added.

"We are definitely looking at the next steps of this partnership," Amster-Olszewski told pv magazine in an interview.

He believes there is vast untapped potential in community solar projects, or "solar gardens," that allow people to purchase solar electricity from a nearby project at the same price or less than they are paying for largely fossil fuel-based grid power.

Many potential buyers of rooftop solar systems, he notes, do not have well-suited properties for on-site arrays because of shading, limited space or other factors. For instance, a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that only 20-22% of U.S. single-family homes have sites appropriate for PV systems.

Community solar: A market potentially worth "billions"

"I think you are going to see a dramatic shift,” said Amster-Olszewski. “The community solar story just starting to be told. I don’t think people realize how fast it’s going to grow.”

What is today a $70-80 million market, he believes will become a market worth “billions within the next few years.”

Earlier this month, SunShare announced an agreement to develop and build community solar projects in Minnesota with engineering and construction company Mortenson.

Both Colorado and Minnesota have approved legislation in recent years allowing community solar. Many states, however, still do not allow the model. Amster-Olszewski estimates that nearly two-dozen states currently are considering it.