West Fresno, CA will be receiving its first community solar farm thanks to an investment made by the Fresno Community Solar Developers. The $20 million investment will lead to a new program constructed in West Fresno just off Cornelia Avenue. Upon completion, the solar project is expected to house 30,000 panels and generate upwards of 10-megawatts of solar energy. Though it’s the first community solar farm for West Fresno, this will be the largest of its capacity size in the City of Fresno.
Miguel Arias, a Fresno City Councilmember, commented on the upcoming community solar farm, praising the efforts being made to bring the “green economy” to Fresno and the valley. According to Arias, the parcel planned off Cornelia Avenue was limited to crops of alfalfa or cotton. Because of its proximity to the Fresno Clovis Wastewater Treatment Facility, no “direct consumer products” are able to be grown on the acreage, Arias explained.
Until the investment from Fresno Community Solar Developers, that left hundreds of acres of land relatively unused. The project will be built on 158 acres of that city-owned property. Currently, the project is undergoing a review with the California Public Utilities Commission, which has to approve the development.
Arias went on to discuss how the land was acquired, stating that, typically, the city would enter into a leasing agreement. Traditionally, Fresno offered leasing opportunities for agricultural use for $250 per month. The councilmember stated that Fresno Community Solar Developers will pay $1,000 every month to lease the land for its community solar farm for 40 years. Not only will the project be a moneymaker for the solar company, its primary purpose is to serve the residents of the Californian city.
As with any community solar farm, the objective is to increase the availability of clean energy. For this garden, customers of Fresno’s local electricity utility, PG&E, will have the option to subscribe through the company’s CARE program. The CARE program opens up access to the community solar farm, which will allow homeowners to save a little money on their monthly utility bill.
According to Mayor Jerry Dyer, the community solar farm is expected to generate $1 million in savings for eligible participants of PG&E’s CARE program. As part of the program, qualifications including being a low-income homeowner of a one to two-person domicile. Additionally, eligible subscribers in a two-person home will have a total income of less than $35,000. For a four-person household, that number jumps to just under $52,500.
While many community solar programs offer a 10% discount, this program will result in a 20% credit on the subscriber’s monthly bill as part of the Disadvantaged Community Green Tariff program, Arias confirmed. Another benefit provided by the construction of the community solar farm is that it will generate approximately 50 jobs. These will bill created during construction.
Fresno’s mayor noted that all employees will be locals and will undergo proper solar installation training, There has been no confirmation on post-construction jobs and if any of the original 50 will remain on even after the project is completed. However, Arias explains that they will then have the training to remain in the green industry to secure future employment. Considering the growth of the sustainability industry, employment opportunities are relatively abundant in Fresno.
Solar energy has been spreading across California as part of the state’s sustainability goals. Three years ago, Governor Gerry Brown introduced the state’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2045. Through solar developments, the state grows closer and closer to that goal. Unfortunately, with the growth of an industry will come the occasional hiccup.
According to the California Public Utilities Commission, it is starting to rethink the current net-metering rules and may consider closing the gap between the interests of the solar industry and local utilities. The state’s primary utility companies are looking to add a grid charge for all solar customers. That would increase the cost of being part of the community solar farm, though advocates for the solar industry have suggested additional net-metering benefits and net billing.
To reach Gov. Brown’s 2045 carbon neutrality goal, the California Energy Commission confirmed the state would need to build at least 6-gigawatts of new facilities each year. That’s not just on the solar industry, though the expansion of community solar programs would certainly keep the state on track to achieve the goal. The figure was determined after the commission compiled a report regarding California’s progress in the race to run off of a carbon-free system.
The Fresno Community Solar Developers have yet to set a timeline for construction on the new community solar farm. Upon its completion, though, homeowners, small businesses, and even renters will be able to subscribe to the site and start benefiting from the low-cost, sustainable energy option. As with most community solar programs, there is no risk to the homeowner, and they are able to break the contract at any time with no penalties.
Community solar is a necessary alternative to having to install private solar panels. The costly endeavor requires the individual to have space for a sizable panel and be able to afford construction and maintenance. The new community solar farm in West Fresno is a cost-saving option that comes with many of the same benefits that solar panel owners receive.
Interested parties should keep an eye on the Fresno Community Solar Developers for more information on the new community solar farm.