It's no surprise that we at EnergySage love solar—it helps you save on electric bills while making our planet a cleaner and healthier place! But unfortunately, not everyone is able to take advantage of solar energy generated right at their home. Whether you're a renter, are part of an HOA that doesn't allow solar, or simply don't have the best roof or sufficient funds for a home solar installation, there's another solution for you: community solar. As a community solar subscriber, you'll save annually on electricity while supporting the development of clean energy in your area.
Sunwealth is a company that develops community solar projects in low-to-moderate income (LMI) communities in Massachusetts, helping bring solar to those who otherwise might not be able to reap its benefits. We sat down with the Sunwealth team to learn more about their company, LMI community solar, and community solar in Massachusetts.
Tell us more about Sunwealth – what's the background of your company?
Sunwealth develops and manages community solar projects that offer up to 25 percent savings for LMI customers in Massachusetts. We provide a unique opportunity for customers to receive solar energy credits on their utility bills, which reduces energy costs while also helping the environment. Sunwealth works to create a more resilient, secure, and equitable energy future for all.
We partner with local affordable housing organizations and municipalities across the state and recently launched an official partnership with the City of Cambridge, providing LMI customers with meaningful cost savings on their electric bills. Other providers in the area who participate in our community solar program include Caritas Communities, Heading Home, and more.
What makes Sunwealth different from other community solar providers?
Sunwealth is a charted Public Benefit Corporation and a certified B Corp with a mandate to protect the environment and invest in communities that are typically overlooked in the renewable energy transition. Sunwealth strongly believes in the "community" aspect of community solar. We partner with skilled local installers, community organizations, local businesses, and investors to change who benefits from clean energy.
What areas does Sunwealth service?
Sunwealth currently services Eversource territories in Massachusetts.
What are the key ways community solar can benefit those in LMI communities?
Sunwealth's community solar program reduces barriers to accessing clean energy for LMI customers, such as property ownership, high upfront costs, and credit checks. Community solar doesn't require anything to be installed at your home. Instead, you become a member of a local community solar project, which is free to join.
Participants in Sunwealth's community solar program pay a discounted rate for the energy produced by the solar panels and receive credits on their utility bills that represent this energy. These savings remain in the community, helping to build wealth and close the inequality gap. There's no credit check required, and the contract is easily cancellable or transferable if you move.
What should Massachusetts residents, in particular, know about community solar?
Massachusetts residents should know that, due to the local climate and seasonality, they may receive more solar credits in the summer when the solar panels tend to generate more electricity. These excess credits may exceed actual electricity usage in the summer and create a balance on your utility account; however, when the panels generate less electricity in the winter, this credit balance will be applied.
Additionally, it's important to know that Massachusetts doesn't have a consolidated billing system. For example, as a Sunwealth customer, you'll receive two monthly bills: an Eversource bill with solar credits applied and a Sunwealth invoice where you pay for those credits at a discount of up to 25 percent. You'll pay your Eversource bill as usual, and your Sunwealth invoice will be automatically processed.
Further, Massachusetts residents participating in community solar are helping the state reach its climate mandates. The Act Creating A Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy signed into law in 2021, requires at least 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030, at least 75 percent by 2040, and at least net zero emissions by 2050. Community solar projects help Massachusetts advance these goals and protect the environment for future generations.
What policies are in place to accelerate LMI community solar in Massachusetts?
MA's renewable energy incentive program, SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target), makes solar energy credits possible. When Massachusetts residents subscribe to a community solar project, they support solar power generation in the state and contribute to the transition to a cleaner, more stable electric grid for everyone. The SMART program requires community solar customers to be given a discount on the credits they receive. SMART also makes LMI customers eligible for higher savings, which allows Sunwealth to offer up to a 25 percent discount on solar credits.
What should community solar shoppers look for when comparing community solar projects?
If you're a prospective customer, you should consider the unique cost savings offered by Sunwealth's community solar projects. Sunwealth provides up to a 25 percent discount on solar credits for LMI customers in Massachusetts. You should also pay attention to things like minimum contract lengths, cancellation fees, or initial sign-up fees. Sunwealth provides our customers with the flexibility to join at no cost and cancel at any time without a fee.
We recommend checking which community solar projects are available in your local area and offer service to your utility zone. EnergySage's Community Solar Marketplace allows you to search for projects by entering your zip code and average monthly electric bill amount.
What are the key things someone should know when they subscribe to a Sunwealth project?
Sunwealth's community solar program has eligibility requirements. If your income is less than 60 percent of the state median, you're eligible for the Eversource Discount Rate (the R2 or R4 rates). Any customer enrolled in the Eversource R2 or R4 Rate is automatically eligible for Sunwealth's community solar program. A table of different qualifying income levels, based on the number of people in a household, can be found here.
If you're not on the Eversource R2 or R4 Rate, you may still be eligible by the location of your home. You can determine this by searching your address on the MA Environmental Justice Map. If your residential address is in a lime green, army green, turquoise, or dark blue zone, you're eligible whether or not you're on the R2 or R4 rates.
If you're a new customer, you should also know that credits will not appear immediately on your bill once you enroll. A community solar project needs to have a full list of enrolled customers before it can operate, so there may be a waiting period of several months before the solar project begins producing energy and providing you with savings on your utility bill.
Familiarity with the billing process is equally important. Sunwealth charges you for solar energy credits applied to your utility bill in the previous month's billing cycle. We will apply up to a 25 percent discount to these credits, which will be summarized on the monthly Sunwealth invoice that is automatically processed. You'll receive this discount only on the solar energy credits you receive, not your total electricity cost.
How do you think the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act will benefit the community solar industry?
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was signed into law in August 2022, makes it more financially feasible to develop solar projects. Starting in 2023, the IRA will directly incentivize community solar projects, with additional incentives for projects with affordable housing organizations and LMI communities. Sunwealth believes and hopes these provisions in the IRA will encourage industry members to develop more community solar projects for LMI customers in the coming years.
What trends have you seen in the community solar industry as a whole, and where do you think the industry is headed?
Community solar is one of the most rapidly growing areas of the solar industry. As federal and state governments continue to develop their climate policies, community solar will be an essential piece in the transition to a clean energy economy. Community solar enables a future where every American can enjoy the benefits of renewable energy.
Additionally, solar will no longer be reserved for homeowners who can afford to install their own residential solar projects. Instead, the industry will continue shifting towards equity, inclusion, and accessibility for everyone, regardless of economic status or property ownership. We see community solar as a tool to strengthen our communities' energy resilience and build wealth in local economies.
How can we, as an industry, encourage broader development and adoption of community solar in LMI communities?
Increasing awareness of community solar opportunities, particularly in LMI and environmental justice communities, is essential. We must use accessible language to explain the benefits of community solar and ensure the enrollment process is as simple and transparent as possible. We also encourage other solar developers to follow our lead by paying closer attention to historically overlooked communities and investing more resources in the areas that need it most.
Interested in signing up for community solar? Whether you live in an LMI community or not, on the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace, you can browse, compare, and subscribe to projects located in your community. If you're confused or have any questions about the process, don't worry! We have an expert team of Energy Advisors here to help you out – free of charge.