Community solar comes to coal country

Image: Soltage

Community solar is coming to Appalachia, an area of the country traditionally fueled by  nearby coal mines.

Columbus, Ohio-based Buckeye Power will cut the ribbon Thursday on the third project involved in its plans to install 2.1 MW of community solar to the region. The commitment to solar power reflects reflecting Buckeye’s desire to balance its more-traditional electricity-production portfolio with renewable energy.

The community solar program, called OurSolar, provides access to solar  energy to populations that couldn’t traditionally access it themselves – specifically populations who don’t own their own roofs or who can’t find financing to put solar on their own properties.

Community solar, as the name implies, allows co-operatives to build centralized solar arrays from which residents can purchase portions of the electricity produced by the array. The latest project – Buckeye’s third since the program’s launch in September – is a 50-kW array at the headquarters of Washington Electric Co-op in Marietta, Ohio.

Washington Electric is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative serving portions of six counties in southeastern Ohio.

The Washington Electric project represents completion of slightly more than 10% of the overall goal. When it’s finished, Buckeye will have installed 23 projects throughout Ohio, adding 2.1 MW of solar power generation to Buckeye’s portfolio.

Washington Electric’s Co-op’s array will produce 375 kWh/year and will feed directly into the co-op’s feed, making it available to subscribers.

Buckeye’s first project, which became operational in September, had 120 of its 304 panels subscribed at the time of the project’s launch.

A community solar program in coal country would have been unheard of as recently as five years ago. But in light of a recent report that most U.S. utilities say they will close coal-fired generation plants to comply with current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, coal country is becoming increasingly fertile solar ground.

Utilities plan to take enough coal-fired plants to generate 20.5 TWh of energy annually will come off the books in 2017 alone.