As prices for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels continue to drop, utilities and power companies are increasingly looking for new and creative ways to add solar to their power portfolios.

Some have chosen a residential solar leasing model, in which homeowners provide rooftop space for solar panels in exchange for a monthly discount on their energy bills. Dominion Virginia Power has decided to try a different kind of model that would involve leasing community and public rooftops for the development of distributed solar power.

Dominion hopes to lease around 30-50 sites from schools, government buildings, community and neighborhood associations and nonprofit organizations and install roughly 10 MW of solar power. Participants will be paid a flat monthly leasing payment but will be able to see how much power their solar panels are producing with installed meters on their property.

The Experiment

“To successfully implement solar energy projects, we have to understand how community-based solar energy will integrate in our existing distribution system,” said Dominion’s VP of Customer Solutions and Energy Conservation, Kenneth Barker.

In terms of infrastructure build out, the distributed generation solar will not require any new transmission lines, Dominion spokesman Tom Kazas told Breaking Energy.

“That’s one of the nice things about distributed generation,” Kazas said. “It’s produced right where the infrastructure is.” He said home smart metering devices are also being developed now by Dominion in various demonstration projects, but have not yet been implemented and will not be used with community solar program, at least for now.

Some entrepreneurs are trying to use a community-based model to finance solar installations as well. California-based Solar Mosaic uses crowd-sourcing financing model for solar developers through the sale of “tiles,” each worth $100. Read more: Promises Of A Rooftop Revolution.

Constellation Energy has a more traditional commercial rooftop solar leasing program in which participants can sign up for free solar panel installations in exchange for signing a 15-20 year power purchase agreement. Watch a video about the program.

Photo Caption: Construction workers lift roofing materials to the top of a townhouse where hundreds and hundreds of new homes are under construction 18 June 2004 in the Faircrest community in Centreville, Virginia.