With community solar, individuals can save money and reduce their carbon footprint by subscribing to a local project. They receive credits applied to their utility bills based on the energy the solar project generates.
Anchor customers are the backbone of community solar projects. They sign 20-year contracts and help projects gain financial stability.
Why Community Solar?
Community solar is a powerful way for communities to embrace renewable energy. It makes solar accessible to those who cannot install rooftop panels, such as renters or those in housing communities. It also democratizes ownership of a local, renewable resource by allowing people to subscribe to a project that offsets their electricity consumption. This reduces their bills by 10-15% annually and lowers regional emissions.
Community solar programs typically use virtual net metering or other billing mechanisms to credit participants for the energy they generate. In addition, they are governed by state or public utility commission policies to ensure that they provide fair and equitable access for all. These benefits are especially important for low-income households, who spend three times more on energy costs.
While developing a community solar farm can be daunting and technically gnarly, it is gaining traction nationwide. Whether it is due to increasing demand, advancing technology, or more supportive policy, this renewable energy project model has proven to be a powerful one for reducing the barrier of entry to solar for all.
Community solar is a great way for people to get involved in renewable energy without making an upfront financial investment. Instead, participants in community solar receive credits that are applied to their electricity bill based on the energy generated by the project they are subscribed to.
These credits are discounted as part of state-legislated renewable energy incentives. When your local utility company bills your electricity bill, you’ll see the value of these credits added as a line item on your invoice. Most community solar providers offer consolidated billing to make it easier for customers to track their subscription’s impact on their bills.
The benefits of community solar go beyond lowered electricity costs. When a community solar project is built in your area, it supports local jobs and boosts the economy. Moreover, when solar power is produced locally, the grid becomes less dependent on big fossil fuel plants. This can minimize power outages and provide a more resilient energy system.
Community solar has the potential to be a game changer for low- and moderate-income communities. These neighborhoods are typically closer to dirty fossil fuel power plants and often have higher rates of air pollution than more prosperous areas. Additionally, the up-front payments required in many community solar subscription models can be out of reach for these communities.
Many people have no access to solar energy because they rent their homes or businesses, own property with a roof that cannot host a system, are on fixed incomes, or face other mitigating factors. Community solar offers these residents a pathway to lower their energy bills and participate in a clean, renewable future.
Currently, there are over 30 states that have implemented the enabling policies necessary to develop community solar. Whether these communities are large or small, rural or urban, they all have one thing in common: a strong commitment to environmental justice.
When community members unite around a shared goal of creating and maintaining local renewable resources, they create a powerful force for change. These projects empower towns to be independent of fossil fuels, shrink carbon footprints, and keep our planet healthy.
However, it’s important to remember that not all consumers are receptive to the idea of community solar at first. To overcome this hurdle, it’s important to provide evidence-based education on the benefits of shared solar. For instance, presenting hard data and real customer testimonials can help to dispel the “too good to be true” veneer that often comes with community solar marketing. This can help consumers better understand the benefits of community solar and ultimately drive adoption rates. Additionally, programs like the District of Columbia’s Solar for All program have made it easy to enroll subscribers by using a unique approach that targets low-income households who receive energy assistance.
For those who can’t install rooftop solar because of high upfront costs and roof constraints, or if they rent their home, community solar programs offer a way to support renewable energy and save money on electricity bills. This is accomplished by subscribing to a local community solar project called a “solar garden.” As electricity is produced by the solar panels at the solar farm or garden and sold to the grid, subscribers receive credits on their utility bills that reduce their subscription costs.
Many states have focused on expanding the reach of clean energy by encouraging community solar. They have developed policies that help low- and middle-income households, environmental justice communities, and people of color enroll in community solar projects. This helps them reduce their electric utility bills and provides a direct pathway to meeting state clean energy and climate goals.
While the community solar model offers access to renewable energy for all, there is still work to ensure everyone can participate. Some community solar programs require lengthy contracts, upfront payments, and credit checks, which can exclude people with poor or no credit from participating. Fortunately, there has been progress to overcome some of these roadblocks, making community solar more inclusive for a wide range of customers. The more people sign up for community solar, the quicker we’ll reach a clean-energy future.