Photo of solar carports - Go Smart Solar gives RR permission to use, we took these on a site visit. These carport show the style of the carports we're building. They are located in Tucson AZ
Solar carports similar to these in Tucson Arizona will allow CPS Energy customers to pay for offsite energy collection and receive credits on their electric bills. Credit: Courtesy / Go Smart Solar

San Antonio residents whose solar aspirations are blocked by renting or having a shaded roof will soon have a new option that aims to transform parking lots into solar farms.

Big Sun Community Solar, a partnership between CPS Energy and private San Antonio solar installer Go Smart Solar, with plans to provide enough solar capacity for 500 to 600 CPS Energy customers, installed in an expected 15 solar carports around the city.

“With San Antonio continuing its leadership in solar power, Big Sun Community Solar offers another opportunity for our customers to support renewable power,” said Paula Gold-Williams, President and CEO of CPS Energy, said in a prepared statement. “We are listening to an increasing number of our customers who want more solar products and services, regardless if they rent their homes or if putting panels on their roof is not optimal.”

CPS Energy has rapidly increased its share of solar during the last decade, and in 2018, ranked seventh in the U.S. for the most solar capacity installed within city limits. The utility has said it plans to produce half its energy using wind and solar by 2042.

Big Sun’s total capacity is expected to add up to 5 megawatts AC, said Jason Pittman, Go Smart Solar’s co-founder and president. The cost to participate will be $2.40 per watt. That’s compared to an average cost of $3.53 per watt for a home system in San Antonio, according to one solar review site.

“Our goal is to make solar more accessible to the community, so we’re constantly searching for innovative ways to lower the cost,” Pittman, said. “Big Sun is our latest attempt at equitable solar.”

The project is CPS Energy’s second involving community solar, also known as roofless solar. It relies on private businesses to provide solar panels at one or more centralized locations. Its first community solar project, built by Colorado firm Clean Energy Collective, relied on more than 11,200 panels on a 10-acre site off U.S. Highway 87 near Loop 1604 east of the city.

That project sold out within five months, according to CPS Energy officials.

Pittman said Big Sun customers will be able to purchase anywhere from one 365-watt panel up to enough solar capacity to cover 120 percent of their annual electricity demand. That means a minimum investment of $876, before incentives.

Customers will get credit on their CPS Energy bills of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity their panels generate, he said. The payback period is expected to be about 12 years, he said.

The company will monitor the energy they produce and handle all operation and maintenance over the 25-year contract period.

They expect construction on the first carport, at the Austin Highway Business Center near Interstate 35, to start in June. Pittman said the entire 5-megawatt program would require covering 2,200 parking spaces.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.