US utility giant NRG to offer ‘community-shared solar’ to customers

One of America’s biggest power utilities is set to co-develop more than 8 megawatts of community solar projects in a joint venture with Colorado-based community energy group, SunShare.

The renewables arm of New Jersey and Texas-based power utility NRG Energy said in a joint statement with SunShare last week that the team would install five ground-mounted solar PV systems by mid-2015

The two companies said four of the solar farms would be developed in Denver’s metropolitan area and one in nearby Colorado Springs.

Once completed and online, the project is expected to have produced one of the largest operating community solar portfolios in the US, with the ability to power more than 1,600 homes for 20 years.

As Bloomberg notes, NRG – America’s largest independent power producer – made the shift into solar when faced with declining growth in its conventional fossil-fuel power business. A step most Australian utilities are still refusing to take.

The state of Colorado, meanwhile, has one of the nation’s most aggressive renewable energy standards, according to Bloomberg, and was the first in the nation to allow private developers to create community solar gardens in 2010 – a model that sells the power directly to consumers (namely those 75 per cent of Americans who can’t host solar panels on their roof) who get a credit on their bills.

For NRG Renew, the joint venture with SunShare – which has more than 100MW of solar gardens operating or under development – will more than double its current community solar portfolio.

“These types of programs, whether with homeowners, commercial businesses or municipalities, allow us to democratize participation in renewable power consumption,” NRG Senior Vice President Craig Cornelius told Bloomberg in a phone interview.

Customers of the solar gardens, mostly businesses and municipalities, will sign a 20-year agreement to get electricity from the ground-mounted panels.

NRG is providing the funds and will be the majority owner, while SunShare will manage the customer contracts, the companies said.

The projects could be dropped down into NRG Yield, a separately-traded unit that holds renewable-power plants, Cornelius said.

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson