CPS Energy plans to have a new community solar facility online and available to all its customers in the San Antonio area this fall. The installation will have 11,200 panels spread across 10 acres. One of its unique features is that the panels will be mounted on movable frames that will allow them to track the sun during the day. That should boost output by 15% over traditional fixed panel systems. Total system output is projected at 1.2 megawatts.

Community solar allows those who live in apartments and condos to take advantage of solar power. It also works for home owners who do not have a roof that is oriented correctly to take advantage of solar panels. “This allows you to go solar without even having a house,” said Cris Eugster, CPS Energy vice president and chief generation and strategy officer.

CPS officials say in a few weeks any CPS customer can buy a 107.5 watt panel for $202 after local and federal credits. One panel will save customers $1.93 a month. Each panel is expected to generate a payback of $23.19 in the first year through savings on monthly electrical bills. The payback adds up to $4,980 per panel over a 25-year period. A typical household would need about 42 panels producing approximately 5 kilowatts of electricity.

There is one catch, however. If customers move out of the CPS service area, they will be responsible for selling their panels themselves. But with 70% of the panels in the facility already spoken for, that shouldn’t be a problem. For the average homeowner to go entirely solar using the farm, a customer would have to spend about $15,000 up front. CPS said it will take about a decade for the customer to break even.

Taking part in the community solar project is an investment, just like a residential rooftop solar system. While the panel might not be on a customer’s property, the energy produced is sent into the entire electrical grid and the customer receives the credit. If the program is successful, there is room to expand the facility.

Customers for the community solar project will be taken on a first come, first serve basis.  More information is available at the CPS website.