Where Is Community Solar Available
Community solar is rapidly expanding across the United States, but still has a long way to go. The website EnergySage offers an online solar energy marketplace where consumers can find and compare community solar programs and pricing in the nine states where community solar is most widely available. According to EnergySage, those states include Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The site recently added Washington D.C. as well.
As of 2020, about a third of states have implemented the enabling policies for community solarmeaning they’ve passed legislation that created a third-party market for community solar, which requires project developers and utilities to follow certain regulations in order to enroll customers and develop community solar installations.
There is also currently a movement underway to have 30 million homes in the United States operating on solar power within the next five years. More than 300 advocacy organizations, solar businesses, and faith communities have signed on in support of the 30 Million Solar Homes initiative, which aims to reach one in four households with solar and expand access to clean energy to marginalized communities, including low- and moderate-income communities, environmental justice communities, and solar deserts.
How To Choose: Home Solar Or Community Solar
Now that youre more familiar with the ins and outs of community solar, you might be wondering how to figure out whether community or home solar is the right choice for you. There are a few factors to consider.
Do you rent or own your home? Unless your landlord is extremely environmentally conscious, you wont be able to have rooftop solar installed on a rental property. Instead, looking into whether your power company is partnering with any community solar projects and allows you to buy a subscription might be your only option for powering your home with solar energy. However, if you own your home, and have a roof that qualifies, rooftop solar can be a great investment.
Are you concerned about your environmental impact? While it may seem like both community and rooftop solar would have the same perk of being environmentally friendly, rooftop solar in some ways is slightly better. Larger scale solar farms and projects, depending on where theyre located, can take up vital farmland. If the project is a concentrating solar thermal project rather than a larger array of photovoltaic panels, those solar projects use several hundred gallons of water every hour as part of generating electricity.
Not to mention, rooftop solar panels may mean that more homeowners are able to individually move to solar energy, whereas large solar farms are posing some unexpected problems that can tax the power grid.
Community Solarwhats The Deal
Have you received multiple offers to sign up for solar and save money on your electric bill? Do you wonder if these offers are legitimate? Wheres the catch? How do these work? People are asking these questions, so I did a little research. Heres what I found out.
There are two ways to engage in community solarone is to invest and own a portion of a solar project, and the other is to to a solar project by agreeing to buy the electricity generated.
Owning a share in a project has high upfront costs and requires a long-term commitment to pay off the debt. It works well if you have the money to invest upfront. As an owner, you can capture tax credits and renewable energy certificates to offset the cost. After the end of payback period you can reap the reward of free electricity.
Subscriptions to community solar farms offer a way to participate in solar without owning anything. You sign a contract to buy the electricity from a community solar farm, with no upfront fees or investment. Contracts can range from month-to-month up to 20 years. According to Maine law, customers can cancel within 5 day of receipt of the first bill or invoice, and solar providers often will allow other reasons for cancellation, including reasonable advance notice of 60-90 days.
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Brings Value To Building Owners As Well
Community solar benefits building owners financially as well through a combination of commercial solar and a tenant program. Any commercial building with a large rooftop area can host a solar project and receive lease payments in turn.
We would develop the solar project and take care of the permitting through construction, including any costs. During development, we work with the property owner to sign up tenants to a community solar project from the rooftop system. Again, there are no costs associated with the rooftop system, plus the lease payments become an additional source of income for the property owner. Hosting a solar system raises the value of their property, along with reducing energy bills for the tenants and the building owner.
What Are The Benefits Of Community Solar At Home
With the number of community solar projects growing its likely that youve seen some sort of advertising from a local power company or investor company about buying shares in a community solar project. Community solar works similar to how net metering works with a home solar energy system, with your home still being connected to the grid. Your energy production is off-set with power produced by a solar farm, and depending on the rate the power company agrees to pay, you get a credit on your account.
Because the current policies surrounding tax incentives for solar owned by homeowners vary by state, and require certain qualifications for homeowners to make the most of them, we know that not everyone can get solar installed at home. Renters, for instance, are regularly left out of the current efforts to make solar energy affordable for everyone in the US who wants an option for cleaner home electricity. Certain states are also seeing lobbying efforts from utility companies to phase out net metering which allows homeowners to go solar, save money, and support clean power generation for the grid.
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Are You Comfortable Committing To A Known Pattern Of Electrical Prices
A review of Minnesota historical electricity prices and the rates of change may be helpful in this discussion. Figure 1 shows Minnesota electrical prices for the years 1990 through 2014 for residential, commercial and industrial classes, a 24 year period. The rates of price escalation were 2.4%, 2.0%, and 2.2% on an annualized basis for residential, commercial, and industrial classes, respectively. One should note the steeper escalation in prices that occurred since 2001 for regulated prices as the U.S. economy reacted to fears of energy price uncertainly following the 9/11 attacks as well as considerations and mounting costs of emissions control for electrical power generation. Costs of emissions control have come to the forefront in recent years in response to more stringent emissions standards and the costs to curb emissions for an ageing fleet of coal-fired baseload power plants in the U.S. Costs of local emissions controls and concerns for future costs for control of Greenhouse Gases have stimulated movement to other sources of power generation like natural gas, wind, and solar.
Solar Electricity For Community Buildings
The Province of Nova Scotias Solar Electricity for Community Buildings Pilot Program enables eligible community groups and organizations to generate solar photovoltaic electricity on their roofs or properties and sell it to their utility under a 20-year contract.
Visit www.novascotia.ca/solar to learn more.
- Fill out the Interconnection Request and Equipment Information Form, and save it to your computer.
- Attach scanned copies of:
- Manufacturer information for the protective equipment
- Range of settings, including proposed, for each of protective functions
- Single-line diagram
- Site plan .
- Protective device data to control interconnection .
- Point-of-Contact information for Interconnection, if different than customer .
You can also mail completed application forms to:
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Community Solar Wont Affect Your Homes Aesthetic
The look of rooftop solar panels isnt for everyone.
Some people get around this problem by installing solar panels on a secondary structure like a carport, or by opting for a ground-mounted solar array instead.
Of course, not everyone has the ability to place solar panels on their property while keeping it out of sight. If that is the case for you, joining a community solar project might be ideal it allows you to benefit economically from solar, without sacrificing your homes aesthetic.
Where Are Community Solar Farms Located
Many Community Solar installations are built on capped landfills, open fields, or the roofs of warehouses, supplying energy to the electricity grid and allowing nearby residents to finally take part in the solar revolution. If you see a small solar installation near you, you might actually be able to get a share of it for yourself! Check out our comprehensive map of U.S. Community Solar.
Solstice has worked on 36 projects in Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois.
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It Starts With Your Mindset
Investing in solar is for future planners.
If youve got a sunny roof, your solar panels offset your electricity use pretty evenly, and your utility company offers a good net metering system, youre probably in good shape to save short term on your utility bills. Perhaps significantly. Many of our clients do. But still, the biggest financial gains are long-termtypically, 8-12 years down the roadwhen youve paid off your solar investment but your electricity is still mostly covered each month.
So before even looking at how sunny your roof is, ask yourself:
Are you thinking short-term right now? Like a robin digging for worms for breakfast?
Or are you in a long-term frame of mind, like when the same robin flies up high to find the perfect branch to build a nest?
Once your solar panels are up and running, what youll pay each month depends on several factors.
Homeowners tend to land in one of three categories.
How Easy Is It To Cancel
Key takeaway: some community solar subscriptions are easier to cancel than others. Because of this, its important to review contract terms before making a decision.
In the best case scenario, you wont need to cancel your subscriptionbut as we all know, life happens its best to prepare ahead of time to understand the process for canceling prior to signing up.
Community solar subscriptions are much more flexible than they used to be. Many programs dont require a long-term commitment and allow you to cancel at any time without penalty. However, this isnt true across all projects as you read through various community solar contracts, youll find that some subscriptions include a minimum cancellation notice or a small early termination fee.
You can read more about community solar cancellation policies in this article.
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How Community Solar Saves Subscribers Money
Residents and businesses also called subscribers who sign up for community solar save up to 10% on their monthly energy costs1 and they dont pay anything upfront to participate. It almost sounds too good to be true. But once you understand how community solar can offer savings, it all makes sense .
A Rooftop Thats Unsuitable For Solar Panels Is No Obstacle
About 50% of all homes arent suitable for a rooftop solar installation, either because they lack the required square feet of roof space, are shaded, or they do not have an orientation towards the south.
Unlike rooftop installations, community solar projects usually have the freedom to choose a location that will maximize solar energy output.
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Tips For Community Solar Marketing: Transparent Education And Clear Information
1. Educate and be transparent. After expressing interest in subscribing to the NRG project in my area, I received an 11-slide sales proposal. The decks first slide Good for the Planet focused on the climate benefits of signing up.
This was the first red flag: I had already taken action to sign up. Wouldnt I already be aware of solars climate benefits? Overall, the proposal did little to inform me about the specific project I would be subscribing to and was more focused on making me feel good about the positives of community solar than clearly articulating how the arrangement would work.
Community solar is relatively new and unfamiliar to most people. Its financial models are complex and the level of trust and commitment required from subscribers is high. For these reasons, educating potential subscribers about how the model for their community works is marketers most important job.
They should use a variety of tools to provide this information that go far beyond sales materials: post explainer videos, FAQs, infographics and other informational materials on social media, in local news outlets and on physical bulletin boards in the community. The goal should be for subscribers to know the basics of community solar before they become leads.
Community Solar Requires No Maintenance
Being part of a community solar project takes away the need for solar panel maintenance.
While rooftop solar panels are covered by warranty and issues are rare, its ultimately up to you as the homeowner to monitor your system and reach out to the company if you think your system may not be working properly.
In a properly managed community solar system, specialist staff will be responsible for monitoring performance, thereby saving you the hassle.
Find the best local solar installers in your area
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What’s Involved In Signing Up
The beauty of community solar is that it costs zero to get involved, says Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage. There are no upfront costs to begin participating in community solar.
What’s more, you can cancel a community solar subscription at any time without penalty . Some community solar programs may require 30 to 60 days’ notice , but there are no other stipulations that prevent you from making a change if you choose to do so in the future. Using EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace, customers are able to review such details as cancellation policies, estimated annual savings, the location of the solar project, reviews, and other helpful details in order to make an informed selection. EnergySage also has a call center staffed by advisors who can answer questions.
The third reason Aggarwal is such a passionate advocate for community solar is the cost savings it provides consumers. He says customers typically decrease their monthly utility bills by anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent.
“That’s a guaranteed discount. Your savings will never, ever be reduced. It’s not a bait and switch,” says Aggarwal. “If you sign up for a 10 percent discount, that’s what you will always get. It’s not like the price is going to increase every year. You lock in that savings. A community solar farm is never going to say, ‘I’m going to raise your price.'”
How Community Solar Works
In order to install solar panels on a large scale, you need a considerable amount of investment. Hence, solar energy isnt free at all, as you need to buy expensive solar panels, equipment, and pay for their installation.
A private solar system cost $25,000 to $35,000, which is sufficient to meet the power needs of an average-sized home. This suggests that depending on the consumption of the house and efficiency of the solar system, it would take at least 10 to 30 years to break even the actual cost of solar installation.
Solar panels last a long time, which helps you retain much of the capital cost over time. Heres a guide on the lifespan of a solar panel.
Community solar garden doesnt require any upfront investment on the part of users. The subscribers or users dont have to pay out of their pocket to start a community solar project.
Pay-As-You-Go is a common community solar business model. This involves charging some sort of onboarding fee that stays well under the three-figure range. This model allows subscribers to pay for power on a monthly basis.
There are a few solar gardens, which offer up-front or partial up-front fee options. If you pay up-front charges, it covers the amount of electricity you will use throughout the contract.
On the other hand, users may choose to pay the flat fee that is not tied to the projected consumption of electricity. In both of these payment models, operators do offer some sort of discount with reference to the kilowatt-hour rates.
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But You Might Be Surprised That One Of The Most Important Factors In Understanding If Solar Will Save You Money Isnt Related To The Sun At Allits About Mindset
Consider this quick illustration:
Imagine, for a moment…
What if you could cut a deal with your utility company?
Youd purchase all your energy for the next 20 years up front. In return, theyd give you a deala lower price.
And even as utility rates rose for your neighbors, even as inflation increased, youd hardly notice. Because each month, youd pay just a small fee for your utility meterabout the cost of a few pints of local beerto keep the energy youd already purchased flowing into your home.
How does that sound?
Your utility company won’t offer that to you.
Theyd lose money. That wouldnt work with their profit model.
But if that scenario sounded good, youre in luck. From a financial perspective, thats how switching to solar energy works: you buy future energy up frontso you can save month to month.
By putting solar panels on your roof, youre investing in your own personal power plant.
Only instead of finite fossil fuels, youll power up from the suns endless energy supply.