Replicable Models

Approaches for Developing Community-Based Renewable Energy Projects

There are many different types of community projects and new, creative ideas are emerging all the time. The following are a few of the many approaches groups can take to develop community renewable energy projects.

Know of an approach that isn’t on the list? Let us know!


Group Buying Program

A small-, medium- or large-scale initiative where a group of homeowners, schools, municipal buildings or other groups purchase or lease clean energy systems together. Systems are individually owned, but participants benefit from group negotiating power and bulk prices. Group buying programs are useful to generate initial interest in renewables because everyone understands the benefits of buying in bulk. They also allow you to build a core group of renewable energy enthusiasts, which can then grow into a more established community organization. This model is also useful to take advantage of residential incentives.

Check out our info page on solar bulk purchases, too. 

Examples of groups using this model:

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Community Ownership

An approach where members of a community get together to finance, own, or operate a clean energy system. Community ownership is typically structured as a community owned LLC or a cooperative, where the proceeds from the purchase of memberships in the cooperative or LLC are used to pay for the system. Members then recoup their investment as the panel host pays for the power produced by the clean energy system.

Examples of groups using this model: 

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Community Funding

In this model, projects are privately owned clean energy systems that are partially financed by selling shares or bonds to community members. The projects are owned and operated by a third party but are designed to either create a dividend for investors or to be a product of community philanthropy. These projects can take advantage of corporate tax incentives and make these incentives available to non-profits or individuals. This approach is a creative way to increase the number of people who can afford to participate in the market by allowing very small shares.

Examples of groups using this model: 

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Community Energy Garden

Individuals that own a piece of a larger privately develop clean energy system and then their share of the production is credited on their electricity bill. This model requires legislation or a cooperating local utility to make it work.  Often participants virtually net meter, the energy production to their electric bill. The Community Energy Garden model has huge potential for scaling and allowing broad participation in the market because individuals can purchase a share in an energy system without having to build and maintain a clean energy system on their property. Community Energy Gardens can also allow developers to site projects in optimal locations.

Examples of groups using this model:

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Renewable Utility Program

In this approach a utility owns and operates a clean energy facility on behalf its customers. Customers purchase shares in the clean energy facility and the power produced by the system Shares are sold to individual utility customers and the buyer’s share of energy production is credited back on their bill.

Examples of groups using this model:

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Group Bargaining Effort

Group bargaining efforts involve community members that take part in a large-scale project with the help of a developer. The developer leases the land from the community and develops a working agreement in order to launch the project. By working together, community members are able to bargain for better terms for their lease, as well as higher compensation. 

Examples of groups using this model:


Social Benefit Project 

In this approach a clean energy system whose financial benefits go primarily to serve a social purpose. This could include providing clean energy systems that help reduce energy bills for low-income households or nonprofit organizations.

Examples of groups using this model:


Do-It-Yourself

Community supported construction of clean energy systems, such as an old-fashioned barnraising.  One way to go about this approach is to simply get a group together with a mixture of skills and work together to do it yourself. DIYing helps bring down costs and can be a way for neighbors to help each other. 

Examples of groups using this model: