Cook County Develops Community Solar Business Case Tool

A new tool that projects the cost and benefits of developing or subscribing to a community solar project has been created – and made available to all commercial and residential customers starting March 29 – as part of  the Cook County, Illinois, Solar Market Pathways project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.

The Solar Market Pathways Program brings together 14 diverse teams nationwide under a single goal: increase solar adoption by reducing the soft costs associated with solar.

The Community Solar Business Case Tool, a flexible financial model, incorporates the construction and maintenance, customer acquisition, and transactional costs for community solar projects into a publicly available model.  It was designed for the Pathways project by West Monroe Partners, a Chicago-based business and technology consultancy, and Elevate Energy, a Windy City-based non-profit organization “focused on delivering smarter energy use for all.”

Key metrics analyzed include net present value, internal rate of return, return on investment, and simple payback period. The tool is intended to provide interested parties across the country with insights about the economic viability of community solar in their region and the implications of alternative project configurations.

The model includes some fixed inputs – based on data gathered from published reports and studies and validated by stakeholder multiple groups.

It gives users the flexibility to evaluate different:

  • System types (ground mount, rooftop, parking-lot canopy),
  • Ownership models,
  • Subscription models (panel purchase, panel lease),
  • Payment structures, and
  • Applicable credit rates.

While West Monroe Partners and Elevate Energy led the development of the tool, they had plenty of help. The project has been supported by other members of the Cook County Community Solar Project, including Cook County (Illinois), the City of Chicago, Commonwealth Edison, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the National Community Solar Partnership, and other regional and national stakeholders also supported development of the Community Solar Business Case Tool.

“Community solar can advance access and equity in renewable energy development, which is especially critical in Cook County, where as many as 75 percent of households and businesses cannot currently install solar on their rooftops,” said Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate Energy. “This publicly available financial tool facilitates that accessibility.”

The SunShot Initiative’s Solar Market Pathways program funds projects across the country that are developing a variety of actionable plans for expanding solar electricity use for residential, community, and commercial properties. The Sunshot Initiative is a national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption.0303

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