Community solar is a great option for anyone who wants to reduce energy costs. It works by subscribing to credits that offset your supply portion of the utility bill. Depending on your electric provider and state regulations, you may be a participant in one of two community solar models.
What Is Community Solar?
Community solar projects are moderately-sized solar farms that many people, including individuals, businesses, non-profits, and institutions, “subscribe” to. Instead of installing panels on their rooftop, community solar subscribers take advantage of a shared solar energy system built elsewhere, such as on a capped landfill, open field, or on the roofs of warehouses. These projects produce electricity that is sent to the grid. The local utility then credits each subscriber’s monthly bill based on their ownership percentage.
These credits are what give the program its name, and they can help offset your electricity bill. Unlike rooftop solar, where you pay upfront costs to install and maintain the system, community solar participants subscribe to a project and receive the credits directly on their utility bills. This is an essential feature of community solar, as it allows for the broadest access to clean, affordable energy. Community solar is often the best option for low-income residents who cannot afford the upfront cost of a rooftop system.
How Does Community Solar Work?
Community solar is a great option for people who can’t install rooftop solar because of location, income level, or energy goals. It’s accessible to renters, homeowners, businesses, schools, religious organizations, and more, as long as they pay an electricity bill. It saves money, reduces carbon emissions, and strengthens the grid. And the more participants, the more cost-effective and inclusive the program becomes.
When you subscribe to community solar, you’re purchasing a portion of a centrally-located solar farm that produces energy on your behalf. This energy is then credited to your utility bill using virtual net metering, which works similarly to traditional solar net metering for homeowners installing rooftop systems.
Most community solar projects are designed with a subscription model, which means you can purchase monthly “shares” in a solar farm. Your share(s) generate energy credits that offset a portion of your monthly subscription cost, and you’ll continue to receive the same electricity as you would without community solar. Since community solar isn’t tied to your house, you can take it when you move (although some research shows it may boost a home’s selling price). And, since community solar farms are placed on the power grid alongside other energy sources, they help balance and stabilize the system.
Why Choose Community Solar?
Community solar is available to anyone who pays an electricity bill, including renters, students, local businesses, and non-profits. And the more subscribers sign up, the less it costs to build new projects, making them even more affordable. It’s a virtuous cycle: more projects, customers, lower rates, and renewable energy.
The subscription model also opens rooftop solar for those who don’t have a roof with a clear view of the sun, want to avoid upfront costs or have other constraints. And as long as you live in the project’s service area, you can transfer or cancel your subscription without penalty if life changes. Another great benefit of community solar is that you don’t have to own the panels to receive the benefits – you receive credits on your utility bill for the electricity the project produces, offsetting your own electric cost. And because it’s produced locally, your community is becoming more independent from fossil fuel-based power and helping to reduce regional emissions.
What Are the Benefits of Community Solar?
Community solar is the fastest, easiest way to add more clean energy into our local power supply, reducing demand for fossil fuels and their emissions. Community solar programs also help the grid become more resilient during an extended outage or other disruption. Unlike rooftop solar, which requires an upfront investment and a long-term commitment, community solar subscription models require no upfront cost and allow subscribers to pass on their benefits if they move or change electricity providers. This is especially valuable for households on a tight budget, such as those who use SNAP, LIHEAP, or USF.
In addition to its direct consumer benefits, community solar supports local businesses and institutions that value environmental sustainability. By supporting community solar, we can enable local restaurants and grocery stores to offer their customers a green option while saving them money on energy costs and hospitals and schools to lower their operating expenses while contributing to a cleaner, more resilient power grid.
As the market for community solar expands, so too do the benefits for our communities and our environment. But, the market has also hit some barriers that must be fixed. Among these are eligibility requirements that can exclude low-income households, such as upfront payment subscription models or credit checks (though this is decreasing), and that limit the participation of large commercial entities like big box stores.