In 2016 alone, the community solar market quadrupled, with 101 community solar projects installing more than 108 megawatts of shared solar across the country. The next five years will see the addition of 1.8 gigawatts, helping expand the benefits of solar across income levels. These programs give individuals—including renters and people living in multifamily properties—access to solar by allowing them to share energy from an on- or off-site solar energy system with multiple end users, such as residents, businesses, and nonprofits.
Missouri has not yet been on the forefront of this trend but Westside Housing Organization—one of our partners through the Partnership for Resilient Communities—is about to change this by installing the first community solar garden in Kansas City, Missouri. Westside Housing Organization has a 45-year history in the city, and believes the city’s original neighborhoods deserve to be restored with equity and justice. They focus on homes that are not only healthy and safe, but also create the foundation for truly affordable and resilient communities.
Through the Partnership for Resilient Communities, Westside Housing will transform a five-acre vacant lot in a predominantly Latino community into a the city’s first community solar garden. The 1MW installation will not only cut emissions and provide renewable energy, it will foster economic resilience by insulating residents from fluctuating energy costs and providing solar job training opportunities for residents in the surrounding affordable housing developments.
“We want to give something back to the neighborhood, besides just the panels and the energy efficiency,” said Executive Director of Westside Housing Organization Gloria Ortiz-Fisher. “We would like to generate energy that could be transferred to our affordable housing developments.” Ortiz-Fisher is also committed to ensuring the presence of a solar garden in the neighborhood will provide learning opportunities for children and adults to learn more about the value of renewable and solar energy.
Being the first is an exciting opportunity. As the community solar pioneers in Kansas City, Westside Housing Organization gets to help define what community solar could look like in their hometown. But this unchartered territory also comes with its own set of challenges. While community solar is just beginning to take off in other parts of the state in cooperative and municipal utility territories, a lack of enabling policy—such as virtual net metering in investor-owned utility territory—has hampered community solar development in Missouri. Under current policy conditions, only neighbors immediately abutting Westside Housing Organization’s community solar garden could receive the benefits of the solar array, limiting the organization’s ability to bring solar to affordable housing residents in other parts of the city.
Faced with a daunting—sometimes seemingly paralyzing—set of challenges, the Westside Housing Organization team joined ISC in Detroit this September for the Partnership for Resilient Communities’ peer learning event in search of inspiration and solutions. Through this workshop, Westside Housing Organization connected with peers tackling equity and resilience issues across the country, and dove deep into their project challenges. During the technical clinic, ISC staff and invited technical experts worked with Westside Housing Organization to help them realize the wealth of assets they already have and see potential paths forward. Westside Housing Organization’s longstanding relationship with the city and support from the community, coupled with new inspiration for potential financial and partnership scenarios, helped Westside Housing Organization leave the workshop with a renewed vision for, and confidence in, this innovative project.
There are system shifts that have to happen to make community solar a reality in Kansas City, and Westside Housing Organization is in the exciting and rare position to influence and shape this policy change and advocate for community-owned solar. This initiative is already creating momentum, recently inspiring the City of Kansas City to pass a resolution to explore the creation of more community solar installations throughout the city. Westside Housing Organization is blazing the trail to help democratize access to renewable energy so the benefits of the clean energy revolution can be shared by everyone in Kansas City.
Interested in developing community solar in your city? Learn more about community solar and explore resources to guide local investment and development.