OPINION: Time to prep your solar garden

Alaskans understand working together to help each other thrive. We have community hunts, mutual aid networks and community gardens all across the state. We come together to use a common plot of land to increase the harvest for all, but we can garden more than food: We can garden electricity!

Gardening is a great way to boost your mood, spend some time outside and save a bit of money on food. We could all use the extra sunshine and a few dollars saved on groceries, but how do you garden if you live in an apartment? What if your yard just doesn’t get the sun you need, or you’re not quite sure how to make those nice raised garden beds? Join a community garden! You can build community, share space with your neighbors, and get all the benefits of a garden in your backyard without needing a backyard. Solar gardens can solve the same problems for people looking to invest in renewable energy.

Solar energy has been gaining a lot of popularity in Alaska over the last few years. The same summer sun that grows us record-breaking veggies also produces power that helps Alaskans all across the state save money on their energy bills and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. I help facilitate Solarize programs in Mat-Su and Anchorage communities whose goal is to help people get solar on their homes, but as the renter of a log cabin hidden in the woods, I can’t put solar on my roof. It wouldn’t get enough sunlight, and I would have to pay for structural remodels of a house I don’t own. A solar garden would let me, and others like me, invest in a solar setup located in a clear sunny patch and save money on my electric bill without the cost of a remodel.

Solar gardens are made possible by community solar programs. Community solar is a system where individuals can invest in and share the benefits of a solar array not located on their property. Each person who holds a share of the community solar array will see their portion of clean, sustainable energy on their utility bill each month. Programs like these significantly reduce solar costs, helping make solar more accessible to folks who don’t have a roof to put their solar on and who can’t afford to put solar on their roof.

While Alaska does have the second-highest energy prices in the U.S., we do not have legislation permitting community solar. Forty-one other states already have community solar projects up and running, and we can join them if our legislators pass a bill allowing us access to solar gardens. For many of us, access to energy is just as important as access to food, and both commodities’ prices are increasingly challenging to afford. If you want to grow some electricity in a solar garden near you like I do, then we will need our leaders to make policy decisions to ensure community solar is possible here. It’s time to plant those seeds for community solar this legislative session.

Rachel Christensen is a community organizer for The Alaska Center who loves clean energy, dog walks and new crafts.

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