California’s lead in the solar industry took a blow with the death of Senate Bill 843 last Friday.  The community solar bill would have allowed millions who are currently unable to put solar on their own rooftops to invest in, and reap the savings from, little pieces of larger solar projects located off-site.  This model of “virtual net metering” (VMN) has taken hold in pockets across the country to allow renters, and those with shaded roofs, to be a part of the solar revolution.

Although a lack of support by two of California’s three investor-owned utilities kept SB 843 from progressing, Colorado’s Xcel Energy has already put the wheels of VNM in motion.  Within 30 minutes of opening their Solar*Rewards Community program to projects under 500 kilowatts, three times the allotted capacity had been applied for.  Xcel is now soliciting applications for projects up to 2 megawatts in size, with a deadline of September 14.

Virtual net metering projects, also known as solar gardens, community solar, or group net metering, are a way for homes and businesses to lease, buy, or in some way invest in a portion of a larger off-site solar facility.  As the solar panels feed electricity into the grid, the credit for that production goes out to all the people who have a piece of the pie.

Of course, the terms and conditions for every program are going to be different, so be sure to pay attention to the details.  Some programs will require that a minimum number of customer accounts subscribe to a project.  Other programs restrict virtual net metering to customers in the same utility service territory to avoid hassles in the bill crediting process.  Moreover, stricter requirements about location, like Xcel’s rule about being in the same county, can be used to create more local generation.

So, if you can’t put solar panels up on your own roof, see if you can benefit from solar on somebody else’s.  If you can’t do it yet because of lack of supportive legislation (or lack of legislation altogether), get involved and spread the word about virtual net metering.  The more people who see that it’s being done, the more people who will believe it’s possible in their own community.

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