Sun sharing: Solar energy co-ops empower smaller businesses

By Dave Winzelberg |  Aug 20, 2012

Solar energy co-ops offer an opportunity for companies seeking an alternative to fossil fuels and their unpredictable market fluctuations.

Two years ago, a forecasted rise in oil prices, in response to the unrest in the Middle East, became a catalyst for renewed discussion about U.S. energy independence.

Some American businesses were quick to realize the importance of alternative energy sources to the eventual elimination of dependence on fossil fuels. But for many, such steps as installing solar panels to power even a portion of their business was impossible financially or logistically.

For instance, Adobe Systems had by 2010 diversified power sourcing for its San Jose, Calif., office buildings to include fuel cells and wind turbines. Still, it wanted to take advantage of solar power, even though the buildings didn't have enough space to install panels. The state of California itself posed another obstacle — it didn't allow for businesses to partner with one another to purchase energy.

As a result, Adobe joined several other Silicon Valley companies in advocating for a change in the law to let businesses form energy co-ops.

Since then, several smaller and mid-sized businesses have been able to link with properties that have adequate space for a large solar array yet lack high local demand for electricity. These pioneering efforts are beginning to pay off — solar co-ops now exist across the country, offering payment structures and rebates for commercial businesses who want to spend energy dollars on the sun. Other states are now following the lead of the early adopters in allowing energy co-ops.

Recently, commercial solar power systems provider Borrego created a $64.4 million solar energy fund for the development of eight new solar installations through a partnership with the National Cooperative Bank in Washington D.C.

The money will finance solar projects for corporate, education and municipal customers, allowing participants to reap the benefits of solar energy without the capital spending needed to individually own and operate the equipment.

The opportunity for businesses to share sustainable energy sources like solar will be good for their bottom lines, while sparing the planet, and help to limit dependence on foreign oil.

DAVE WINZELBERG - David Winzelberg is an award-winning reporter who spent 20 years writing for the New York Times. He currently writes for Long Island Business News.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic Online as part of the Investing In A Better Tomorrow program.

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