Community solar programs are a great way to allow more people the ability to access solar energy. An increasingly feasible option for both electricity users and utilities, community solar allows multiple participants to purchase panels or subscribe to a solar project in their community and receive on-bill credits associated with their portion of the overall system’s production. Anyone with an electric bill can participate in a program, including residential, commercial, industrial and non-profit customers of the participating utility.
Because the production of solar power does not take place on an individual’s rooftop or a business owner’s property, community solar opens up the marketplace to a much greater segment of the population. This model enables renters, condo residents, homeowners with shaded or unfit rooftops, or anyone who does not want to invest thousands of dollars in an on-site array, to go solar and enjoy the financial and environmental benefits without the maintenance.
What Makes Community Solar So Appealing?
Also known as “roofless” solar, community arrays are optimally sited to absorb the most sunshine, and they feature commercial-grade equipment to maximize production. Since no panels are installed on a customer’s home, shared solar arrays do not require any roof upgrades, nor do they create an obstacle for any future roof repairs. Many ground-mounted roofless solar arrays are built on land that can no longer be used for other purposes – from former landfills to contaminated sites to compromised farmlands.
Community solar arrays are interconnected with the electric grid, so the output goes directly onto the local distribution wires. Projects can be sponsored by utilities, third party developers or non-profits. Energy produced by the array is delivered directly to the electric utility. A participant’s electric bill will be credited in relation to how much energy their share of the facility produces. It is possible that a customer’s electric bill can be reduced by 100 percent through solar energy from the array.
Because community solar arrays are interconnected with the electric grid, customers can move within a participating utility’s service territory and still benefit from their portion of the shared solar array. The flexibility makes community solar particularly appealing to anyone who is unable or unwilling to install solar electric panels on their home or commercial building. If a customer relocates from the area, he or she may sell or donate their panels or block of solar production to another eligible subscriber.
Solar for All
Community solar makes solar energy accessible to low-and moderate-income customers, too. This is possible due to several reasons, including:
- No Rooftops – Community solar does not require rooftops, so home ownership is not necessary for participation.
- Zero Down Payments – Many programs allow participation through subscription, which commonly does not require participation fees.
- Philanthropic Efforts – Project sponsors and corporate entities can donate portions to local housing authorities who can then designate production to low-income households. Ownership is transferable, allowing gifts of solar energy to those in need.
Applying the Electric Bill Credits
Community solar participants receive credits on their electric bills for the clean energy their system produces. These bill credits may be issued in the form of kilowatt-hours (kWhs) of electricity or converted to a dollar amount and subtracted from a customer’s monthly electric bill.
Shared solar arrays can be hosted and administered by various parties — from solar developers to utilities to municipalities. The benefits vary, based on how each individual program is structured.
For example, a community solar project sponsored by a large utility company might issue fixed monthly kWh credits based on the estimated production of a customer’s solar share. A utility cooperative might credit its members at the full retail rate of electricity for the power produced by their block of solar. A community solar developer might apply bill credits directly on a customer’s utility bill — in proportion to the number of panels they own — which can result in a credit rate higher than the retail price of electricity.
Why Aren’t More People Adopting Solar?
This is likely due to a lack of education about solar. Oftentimes, when people discover their homes aren’t suitable for rooftop solar, they think they have no other solar option. Because community solar is still a growing industry, some electricity ratepayers either haven’t previously heard the term ‘community solar’, or they might not realize that there’s a community solar program in their neighborhood and that they too can easily access clean energy production.
How Do I Know if Community Solar is Right for Me?
When evaluating your options to go with community solar, be sure to do your homework by speaking with friends and neighbors who have chosen solar, use common sense when reviewing any community solar contracts, and be active and engaged in dealing with solar companies.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), created a helpful guide for residential consumers who might be contemplating going solar. The guide provides an overview of community solar and even provides suggested questions customers should ask solar companies before signing into a community solar agreement. You can access SEIA’s guide here. Or, to learn more about CEC’s community solar offerings, visit rooflesssolar.com.