A new trend is springing up across the country that’s making affordable solar energy increasingly available to the masses. Community solar gardens allow customers who aren’t able to establish their own solar power systems to buy into a solar array built elsewhere and get a credit on their electricity bill for the power produced by the panels. These arrangements that allow people to not only cut their power bills but also switch to more green energy first emerged in Colorado, but have since spread across the country – with laws allowing the projects to progress through legislatures in California, Minnesota and Washington D.C., and one on the books since 2008 in Massachusetts – where the trend is currently taking flight.

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So how does it work? A developer builds a solar farm and sells the electrical output of a certain number of panels to a customer, based on their energy needs or how much power the customer wants to offset. The customers get credit for that power, most often through a fixed per kilowatt-hour rate, which is taken off their electricity bills. Placing them in optimal locations for sun exposure can maximize the amount of energy produced by the panels, but the impact to the customer’s energy bill varies from state to state and depends on how utility companies bill their customers. For example, in Denver customers of Xcel Energy can buy enough solar shares to offset 120 percent of their power use, while under the proposed system in New York, customers could only offset 100 percent of their electricity usage, while ownership terms would be limited to five years for residents and 10 years for businesses.

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Buying into community solar gardens doesn’t come without its cost, though. One Massachusetts customer interviewed by the New York Times says it will cost about $41,000 to power his 3,000 square foot house after rebates and incentives, which would purchase power from 32 panels in an upcoming project. The upshot is, interest in panels is transferrable – so it can be migrated elsewhere or passed on to someone else.

Via New York Times

Images via jurvetson and brookhavenlab, Flickr Creative Commons