Steph Speirs thinks about solar the way one might think about a community garden. Why go through the trouble of planting panels on your roof when you could instead plug into a shared neighborhood resource? Through her company, called Solstice, Speirs and cofounder Steve Moilanen roll out community solar gardens that allow people who don’t own their properties — or who don’t have the means or interest in installing a home setup — to tap into a local solar project and save a few bucks on electricity.
Solstice identifies locations for new community projects, works with local developers to arrange financing and installation, and ensures subscribers see credits on their electricity bills. Speirs’ company has earned seed funding from Echoing Green, a social entrepreneurship fellowship, and was recently picked for the selective Techstars startup accelerator. Solstice currently has solar gardens scattered around Massachusetts and intends to expand nationwide.
Community solar isn’t a new idea, but Speirs and her team are working hard to make it more accessible. Example: In 2015, the First Parish Unitarian Church in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, couldn’t install panels on its roof because of its status as a historic building. Last year, the church leadership became aware of Solstice and its existing community solar program in Bridgewater. The congregation voted to plug into the project, thus saving 10 percent on its electricity bill and putting its sustainable values into practice. Better yet, individual parishioners followed the church’s lead and signed up, too. “We’re proud that these are typical stories at Solstice,” Speirs says.
Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.