​​​​​​​​The Achieving Cooperative Community Equitable Solar Sources (ACCESS) project, the flagship project of NRECA's initiative Advancing Energy Access for All​, aims to improve the affordability, performance, and value of solar technologies on the grid. Through this project, tools and resources will be developed to assist electric co-ops and the broader industry deploy solar projects to benefit low-to-moderate-income (LMI) consumers.

In line with this goal, NRECA collaborated with Cliburn and Associates through the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) Technical Assistance program to develop a tool for evaluating the business case of community solar for LMI members at Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO). This tool is a generalized version of the output from that effort and is intended to provide insight to other cooperatives considering similar projects.

The tool is based on a template ​that was first developed with DOE funding to assist 3rd-party community solar developers. The template was modified so it addresses the co-op utility perspective, the (unsubsidized) subscriber perspective, and benefits specifically for LMI customers. LMI benefits may be indirect, where the value of some of the project's generation could be directed to support a low-income assistance fund.

The model also tests an alternative approach where a portion of the solar project's value is directed to support incentives and financing for LMI energy efficiency improvements. By bundling solar benefits with energy efficiency, LMI customers could see greater savings more quickly.

The model was originally loaded with data for OPALCO (one of the Leader Cooperatives partnering with the ACCESS project) to use for its specific community solar project. Later, Cliburn and Associates developed a more generic version of the model, which is provided here.

Inputs to the tool include critical information such as system location and the size, type, and number of shares allocated to each subscriber. Outputs include relevant financial metrics such as subscriber net present value (NPV), net benefits, utility NPV, and utility return on investment (ROI).​​