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A guide to community solar: Utility, private, and non-profit project development

This guide provides information for communities interested in developing community solar projects. Community solar is the term used to describe a “solar-electric system that, through a voluntary program, provides power and/or financial benefit to, or is owned by, multiple community members.” This document overviews three sponsorship models commonly used for community solar projects: the utility-sponsored model; the special purpose entity model; and the non-profit “buy a brick” model. Advantages and disadvantages of each model are discussed, as are key financial, legal and implementation considerations. Examples of communities implementing each model are also provided. Additionally, this guide provides an overview of the state policies (e.g., group billing, virtual net metering, and joint ownership policies) that encourage community solar projects. State and federal tax policies and incentives available to community solar systems are also discussed, as are securities compliance considerations.


This guide provides useful information for communities interested in deploying community solar programs. This material could be used to help community organizers, solar advocates, or utility managers navigate different options and potential legal, financial, and project design obstacles associated with community solar. One feature of the report is a set of tables that overviews different aspects (e.g., benefit allocations, financing structure, etc.) of utility, special purpose entity, and non-profit community solar models. The last section of the document is devoted to a step-by-step guide designed to help communities get started in developing community solar projects. This guide includes a sample budget and template project development worksheet.

The Community Solar Guide was developed for the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) by Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development, Keyes and Fox, Stoel Rives, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. This Guide builds on the research and writing from the Northwest Community Solar Guide, published by Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Northwest SEED.

Read the guide here: A guide to community solar: Utility, private, and non-profit project development.