Vernon electric Cooperative in Westby is cutting the ribbon on Wisconsin’s first community owned solar farm in Westby today. The project was built in partnership with national community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC).
CEC pioneered the model of delivering clean power-generation through large-scale facilities that are collectively owned by participating utility customers. Since establishing the first community-owned solar garden in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colorado, CEC has built or has under development 33 community solar projects with 13 utility partners across 6 states, representing 17.8 MW of community solar capacity.
Through CEC’s model, any member of VEC can purchase panels ($600 each) from the shared farm—as few as one or enough to completely offset the energy demands of a home or business. Credit for the power produced will be provided directly on their monthly utility bills.
VEC Marketing and Communications Director Dave Maxwell by applying incentives and rebates, and also combine purchasing with a Dairyland Power Cooperative solar farm right next to theirs, they were able to reduce the price of individual panels from about $900 down to about $600.
Whats does that mean for the average VEC customer? Maxwell says if a customer purchases one panel they will see a reduction of about $40 a year on their utility bill at current rates. So the return on investment take s some time but Maxwell says most people are not buying into the program for the investment but rather to do their part in supporting renewable energy and reducing heir carbon footprint.
Maxwell goes on to say the amount of power produced is small compared to the overall need of VEC customers, about 40 homes out of 10,000 customers, but there are side benefits from the solar farm, like providing additional power during peak load times.
The $600 investment makes sense for many homeowners, said Maxwell, since many home situations do not lend themselves well to solar projects because of location or logistics, but the cost also includes maintenance that will cover the life of the panels which normally have be carried by homeowners as well.
Dairyland Power Cooperative is also building a solar farm next to the VEC project and that farm will include 1,800 panels that will produce enough electricity to power up to 60 homes.
The program has been so popular that Maxwell says in only took about two weeks to sell 921 of the 1001 panels to their customers.
For more information you can go to Vernon Electric Cooperatives Website