Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

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quadscint
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Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by quadscint »

I live in MN and have been getting multiple offers for community solar. Basically, a company installs a bunch of solar panels in a remote (and hopefully sunny!) area. You get credit off of your energy bill based on how much the solar farm produces.

It seems that it is just a bet based on future energy prices with the only positive is it being a hedge. FYI, The brochures keep quoting something around $500 savings over a few years based on 4% increase in non-solar electric rates. Yes, I realize they are biased! Has anyone had experience with this or have strong feelings about this? I'm leaning towards no.
MathWizard
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by MathWizard »

1) If solar was such a great investment, utilities would have blanketed the entire southwest US in them.
If you want to do this for the environment that is one thing, but I'm not sure it makes sense financially.

2) Is the solar farm in MN?
One, MN farmland is quite valuable versus desert land in the southwest.
Two, I would think wind-power would be better suited for MN. You can farm around the towers,
so less land is consumed than with solar.
Three, most alternative energy plants don't produce huge amounts of electricity, and they have to be
connected to transmission line on the grid which may be far away, and that would be a huge capital cost.
So siting near existing high voltage electric grid infrastructure is imperative.
Four, Isn't MN a poor zone for solar due to the low incident angle of the sun, especially in the winter.

3) I like solar near its end use. On rooftops (especially solar water heat where it does not freeze), and on parking garages
for plug-in electric vehicles.
Jack FFR1846
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by Jack FFR1846 »

While solar installation costs continue to drop, what really drives solar is government money. In Massachusetts (we get very little sun), there are huge state incentives including paying up front for 20 years of solar production towards the installation costs. So here, anyone can get a rooftop system for free from any of an dozen companies. I have not seen any solar farm buy in opportunities. But in my suburban area, I know of at least 3 dozen new solar farms that have popped up from everywhere from former farms to open area in highway cloverleafs or highway side areas.

http://www.seia.org/research-resources/ ... lar-states

I know that net metering limits have become issues in Mass and Nevada. This sets limits on total solar generation that goes back into the grid. Other states may have this issue....I've only heard of these 2 states and not sure if either has taken care of it yet.

Look into state incentives.
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David Jay
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by David Jay »

Large scale solar is not cost effective without government subsidies (largely because there is no practical large-scale storage, so there must be 100% power generation capacity for night hours).

You will be betting that government policy doesn't change.
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future - Niels Bohr | To get the "risk premium", you really do have to take the risk - nisiprius
Andyrunner
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by Andyrunner »

Almost sounds like a scam.

As far as the comment on wind in MN, yes there are several wind farms already in southern MN. These are generally in the middle of corn fields so land is more valuable producing corn rather than solar energy. Thinking of putting solar panels in tornado country just sounds like a really bad idea too.

NOW my idea is: Solar paneled wind turbines! Think about it, double the power with wind and solar, the ultimate green machine!
dpc
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by dpc »

As mentioned, the payback is heavily dependent on government tax credits and subsidies. I would not consider doing this as an investment with money I cared about. Lots of flim-flam regarding solar power. If your local utility offers you a great deal for installing a system on your house, that might be worth considering. Again, this is dependent on subsidies, but locally we've seen some pretty amazing offers by public utilities.
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buccimane
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by buccimane »

MathWizard wrote:
3) I like solar near its end use. On rooftops (especially solar water heat where it does not freeze), and on parking garages
for plug-in electric vehicles.
Economically the community solar plots are MUCH more efficient when compared to the "rooftop revolution"
A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still
MathWizard
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by MathWizard »

David Jay wrote:Large scale solar is not cost effective without government subsidies (largely because there is no practical large-scale storage, so there must be 100% power generation capacity for night hours).

You will be betting that government policy doesn't change.
I'm not suggesting OP do this, and you do need to handle peak power generating capacity, but some storage of energy is
possible and is already done with hydro as the large scale storage agent.

You pump water behind a large Dam (think Hoover Dam) during low demand, and generate power with that water during peak demand. So Lake Meade becomes a large battery (or capacitor). The power source could be solar or wind or any baseline source.

See:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taum_Sauk ... er_Station
for an example.
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just frank
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by just frank »

MInnesota has one of the most forward thinking net metering arrangements in the country....rather than just offering solar owners a flat rate per kWh for their production, the state of MN tries to calculate the value of solar electricity to the utilities (which they find can often be greater than the retail rate) and then force their utilities to pay that amount. It is called 'value of solar' pricing; or VOS. You can google it.

http://fresh-energy.org/2016/07/mn-regu ... olar-rate/

As for community solar farms or 'gardens'...I have always assumed that they would be built on low-value, public owned brownfields....

http://www.renewalredevelopment.com/mag ... one-Bright
krannerd
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by krannerd »

I also live in MN and have been blanketed with ads for community solar. Incentives expire this year which explains the marketing blitz. I have read that there are concerns about the viability of the organizations that provide the solar energy. The 25 year contract is what worries me the most about this.

Given the modest expected savings for me ($35/mo)...there is too much uncertainty for me. I like the idea...but I am not an early adopter.

Hope this helps.
squirm
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by squirm »

just frank wrote:MInnesota has one of the most forward thinking net metering arrangements in the country....rather than just offering solar owners a flat rate per kWh for their production, the state of MN tries to calculate the value of solar electricity to the utilities (which they find can often be greater than the retail rate) and then force their utilities to pay that amount. It is called 'value of solar' pricing; or VOS. You can google it.

http://fresh-energy.org/2016/07/mn-regu ... olar-rate/

As for community solar farms or 'gardens'...I have always assumed that they would be built on low-value, public owned brownfields....

http://www.renewalredevelopment.com/mag ... one-Bright
CA is solar friendly too.
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unclescrooge
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by unclescrooge »

With a solar farm you will be getting paid wholesale rates.

With the increase in solar and wind generation, wholesale rates are going negative during times of low demand. There was an interesting article on Bloomberg about this.

I would be very skeptical. If anything, I would lease the land to solar farmers.
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DiscoBunny1979
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by DiscoBunny1979 »

MathWizard wrote:1) If solar was such a great investment, utilities would have blanketed the entire southwest US in them.
This is not a true statement as the reason the southwest isn't blanketed by solar is because 1) the environmentalists argue that covering the ground with miles of solar panels disrupts the natural migration of living things, such as desert turtles and other creatures and therefore the placement of such panels can destroy nature, making it a no-go in certain desert communities, and 2) Companies like Edison in CA are required to have a certain amount of their energy produced by renewable resources like solar or wind or geothermal. Therefore it is wrong to assume that utilities aren't doing this. they are. It's just that the cost to the consumer is so high that it has driven many to install their own rooftop systems, which in turn has ironically hurt the utility's bottom line due to that they don't own the asset, but the 'customer' does.

In terms of buying into a solar farm . . . like any solar installation, it is also dependent upon the weather, cloud cover, and a wide variety of things. Does the location in MN benefit from no cloud coverage during winter? How does the farm account for snow? If the production is only during spring/summer then it doesn't make much sense to participate . . . it's like the installation of consumer solar panels on one's roof. The winter and fall solar production is important because net metering can offset the high usage during summer, effectively making a year-round energy utility bill close to nothing. But the key to making solar work is to have been an energy hog in the first place. For instance, Edison in CA will only allow the consumer to have a system that can generate the same energy as used in the last year. Therefore, there is no way to "make money" unless you don't use the system at all . . . and some folks don't, living in a hot house, hoping to get a few bucks at the end of the year in a 'rebate'.
Valuethinker
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Re: Community Solar [Should I buy a solar farm]

Post by Valuethinker »

DiscoBunny1979 wrote:
MathWizard wrote:1) If solar was such a great investment, utilities would have blanketed the entire southwest US in them.
This is not a true statement as the reason the southwest isn't blanketed by solar is because 1) the environmentalists argue that covering the ground with miles of solar panels disrupts the natural migration of living things, such as desert turtles and other creatures and therefore the placement of such panels can destroy nature, making it a no-go in certain desert communities,
AFAIK this has not been a huge factor in terms of actually building the things? Objections are raised, these things are worked out.
and 2) Companies like Edison in CA are required to have a certain amount of their energy produced by renewable resources like solar or wind or geothermal. Therefore it is wrong to assume that utilities aren't doing this. they are. It's just that the cost to the consumer is so high that it has driven many to install their own rooftop systems, which in turn has ironically hurt the utility's bottom line due to that they don't own the asset, but the 'customer' does.
Is it not rather that the incentives for smaller solar systems on homes overcome the 2x higher installed costs?

The problems for utility scale solar are:

- availability of capital (by which I mean that, for example, the CEO of ?Nrgy? got fired for overexpanding the renewable assets in the business, driving down short term returns. In the long run, his strategy might well be the right one, but the upfront costs are high and shareholders didn't like that pain

- solar is very high upfront cost then payback over decades. There is fuel price uncertainty, and electricity demand is generally *down* (things like LED lights are having a significant effect). So for a utility, against a gas plant, it looks like too long term a bet?

- intermittency problem - solar panels don't generate electricity at night, and a lot less on a cloudy day, and utilities value reliability of supply (as does the electricity market itself- -prices spike at peak demand periods, and the key one is 4.30-7.30 pm and that's not when there is peak solar production)

- solar farms have to be connected to the grid, and there grid capacity issues? New power lines are fiercely resisted in most localities
In terms of buying into a solar farm . . . like any solar installation, it is also dependent upon the weather, cloud cover, and a wide variety of things. Does the location in MN benefit from no cloud coverage during winter? How does the farm account for snow? If the production is only during spring/summer then it doesn't make much sense to participate . . . it's like the installation of consumer solar panels on one's roof. The winter and fall solar production is important because net metering can offset the high usage during summer, effectively making a year-round energy utility bill close to nothing. But the key to making solar work is to have been an energy hog in the first place. For instance, Edison in CA will only allow the consumer to have a system that can generate the same energy as used in the last year. Therefore, there is no way to "make money" unless you don't use the system at all . . . and some folks don't, living in a hot house, hoping to get a few bucks at the end of the year in a 'rebate'.
All good stuff and relevant.
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