With Community Solar, Rates That Never Rise

Strictly looking at it in money terms, here’s the gamble that Orlando, Fla., residents can make: They can continue to pay around 10 to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour for their electricity and hope the price doesn’t go up too much in the coming years.

Or they can back a community solar project, and pay 13 cents/kWh – for the next 25 years.

Factor in the environmental benefits of solar power, and this one seems like a no-brainer.

orlando community solar

The Orlando community solar project will be done with canopies over the parking lot at a utility facility (image via Orlando Utilities Commission)

Yes, community solar did run into a hiccup in California last year, but it will be back to try again there, and that doesn’t change the fact that it is spreading, from Colorado to Australia and now in Florida. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the solar garden that’s in the works will be just the second in Florida (the utility, on its website, says it’ll be the first).

The beauty of community solar is that it allows people who don’t own a home, or live in an apartment or condo, or maybe are surrounded by shady trees, to go solar. Plus, these “solar gardens,” as they’re often known, come with no upfront costs and maintenance is taken care of as well.

The municipal electricity and water utility Orlando Utilities Commission is doing this project, with the solar array set to go in at an OUC facility in Gardenia, right off Interstate 4. The 400-kilowatt system will be done canopy style on the parking lot there, so in addition to generating electricity, it will provide shade for workers and customers, always a good thing in Florida.

OUC said it expects the array to put out about 540,000 kWh a year. That seems to be a modest estimate, with our calculations showing a 15.4 percent capacity factor. Still, it’s “enough energy to meet the power needs of about 40 homes and is the equivalent to avoiding 949,316 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions,” OUC said. (Floridians rely on electricity more than residents in other states, using on average 14,328 kWh per year, above the national average of 11,280 kWh.)

In the program, residents can subscribe in 1 kW blocks up to 15 kW.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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