In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint the University Park community in Maryland established a solar power generation plant for member residents.

Considered to be the first community-initiated solar power system, the University Park Community Solar (UPCS) LLC is a for-profit company. In 2008, UPCS became a registered Maryland LLC with the objective of organizing, financing, installing, and managing a community solar electric generating facility in the neighborhood. UPCS residents with a distributive energy generation option they did not previously have. Most of these members were renters or had poor solar access or orientation.

UPCS at first had difficulty finding a host site with a viable roof and a cooperative owner. On May 19, 2010, Standard Solar, Inc. worked with the University Park Church of the Brethren to launch the first panel. Standard Solar installed 22.77 kilowatt of a photovoltaic (PV) system using 230-watt Sharp panels made in the United States. 35 members each pooled on average $4,000 for this investment.

UPCS also faced challenges embedded in the Public Service Commission rules, most sponsored by PEPCO, the utility that supplies electric power to the area. Previously, PEPCO would confiscate excess electricity on an annual basis. After lobbying the Maryland General Assembly and Senate for a change to the policy, UPCS was granted permission to receive market rate for the excess electricity. The panels generate over 25% more electricity than the Church needs. The excess power is then sold to PEPCO customers, increasing UPCS revenue.

The LLC has a return of more than two-thirds of its outlays thus far. Its accomplishments have been recognized by the Biophysical Society Carbon Mitigation Committee, which awarded UPCS two 2011 Carbon mitigation Awards. Richard Scorza, a member of the Board of Directors, commented on the company’s success, “The key feature of our model is that it’s on a human scale, requiring outlays equivalent to purchasing certificates of deposit.  The difference is the return for us is at the 7% level, much higher than a CD.”

UPCS is branching out to other projects including a water-heating system on the roof of Franklin’s Brew Pub in nearby Hyattsville, MD. Another LLC member is helping to install a solar plant to power the cold storage facility at a large urban farm in Baltimore.

Dozens of community groups around the country that are using UPCS documents, such as the Power Purchase Agreement, and following the model or adapting it to fit their particular needs. These documents are available at no cost, providing many communities with the groundwork to launch solar plants on their own. UPCS members understand their model can be applied throughout the United States and abroad. Scorza recommends that groups interested in bringing solar power to their communities contact the LLC, “We are looking to get to a tipping point one roof at a time.”

To learn more about UPCS LLC, check out its website: www.universityparksolar.com
Photo from UPCS website.

Contact: Richard Scorza at richard.scorza@verizon.net