Multiple Benefits for Local Communities

Community renewable energy projects offer several economic and environmental benefits by intelligent use of renewable energy sources. They also enable access to these benefits to people who might otherwise be unable to afford to do so. 

When constructing for social impact, should renewable energy community projects be high on the list? Judging by the record of applicants for New Jersey’s Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, the answer is a resounding yes.

What are community renewable energy projects?

A community renewable energy project can be split into two elements:

  1. Community energy – the collective action to purchase, generate, manage, and reduce energy
  2. Renewable energy – renewable energy sources

By acting collectively, a community can obtain benefits that include:

  • Generating cheaper energy that can be used or sold, thus reduces energy costs for all participants in the program
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reducing air pollution
  • Reducing or eliminating the dependence on fossil fuels and imported fuels

Additionally, community energy projects can help create jobs and boost the local economy.

Renewable energy sources include:

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Biomass
  • Hydroelectricity
  • Wave/tides

How can communities implement renewable energy projects?

There are several ways to implement community renewable energy projects, including:

  • Generating energy at the site where it will be used – an example might be solar panels on an apartment block
  • Purchasing green energy and distributing it to the community involved in the project
  • Purchasing renewable energy from an electric utility

The most direct option is on-site generation with access to renewable energy. This could also be provided by wind or waterpower (via wind turbines or water mills, for example, or, on a larger scale, via hydroelectric power). On-site generation also improves the quality and reliability of energy generation.

Challenges of community renewable energy projects

There are many challenges associated with renewable energy projects. These include technical and financial hurdles, though the biggest challenge is likely to be regulatory. When considering these projects, you must:

  • Assess the local resources that are available
  • Involve all stakeholders
  • Estimate the costs and compare to current costs, and then assess against long-term benefits
  • Compare the costs of different renewable technology options

It is also crucial to consider the permitting requirements for potential locations, and, of course, how the project will be financed.

Community renewable energy projects in action in New Jersey and New York

In New York, it was recently announced that a further 20 renewable energy projects will be built this year. These include the first utility-scale solar project in upstate New York. 

When combined, these projects are expected to create around 2,000 new jobs and attract nearly $1.5 billion in private investment. In total, these projects will generate enough energy to power 320,000 homes while offsetting 1 million tons of carbon emissions each year.

Another initiative in New York, Community Solar, allows New Yorkers to subscribe to the community solar project and receive credits against their electric bill for the clean energy produced. An off-site project, New Yorkers don’t need to place solar panels on their buildings, there are few upfront costs, and every month subscribers will save money on their electric bill.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy recently announced the completion of the state’s first community solar project. Constructed by NJ developer Solar Landscape in Perth Amboy, it is part of the state’s Public Utilities’ Community Solar Energy Pilot Program

In 2019, there were 45 projects awarded on consideration of location, community engagement, and local benefits, particularly for low- and moderate-income communities. In 2020, projects allotted have doubled the amount of community solar energy capacity. Here is how the pilot scheme works:

  • The Pilot Program is administered by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Clean Energy Program
  • It provides solar energy via a subscription model
  • Customers are connected virtually to a solar installation
  • The energy generated is divided among the subscribers
  • A credit is added to the subscriber’s electric bill

In this way, even those homes that cannot otherwise benefit from solar energy (for example, because they have no roof or their property is shaded) can access the benefits of renewable energy.

Renewable energy – enabling communities to deliver social impact

Community renewable energy projects like those in NY and NJ, help to involve local communities in renewable energy generation. In turn, this helps to improve the acceptance of renewable energy and deliver the many benefits of adopting renewable energy on a larger scale.

Harnessing local resources, counteracting fuel poverty, and creating new jobs for locals are only a few of these benefits. The results to date demonstrate the effectiveness of constructing for social impact.

To learn more about our commitment to build better neighborhoods in which community prospers, contact ACB Consulting.

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