NRG Energy is one of the biggest builders of solar energy systems in the United States, including utility-scale, commercial, and home solar. In 2015, the company began building community solar farms for homes and businesses in the United States. Learn how NRG community solar works, what NRG is offering, and whether community solar is the right option for you.
(Update: As of late 2018, NRG Community Solar operates independently under Clearway Energy.)
A community solar project (also known as a "solar garden" or "shared solar") is a solar installation whose power is shared among many homes and businesses. Unlike a rooftop solar installation, community solar projects can be located a distance away – or offsite – from your property.
The primary goal of community solar is to make it possible for community members to share the benefits of solar power, even if they cannot or prefer not to install solar panels on their property. If you choose to participate in an NRG community solar project (or one by another community solar provider), you pay for a share in the project and benefit from the electricity generated by the community solar farm, which costs less than you would pay your utility.
Currently, NRG is operating community solar projects in three states: Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York. NRG has also partnered with SunShare, another community solar provider, to build projects in Colorado.
Every community solar offering is different. These are the key considerations for you to review about NRG's community solar options, including contract length, structure, savings, and cancellation policies.
Contract type and length
Community solar providers have two basic contract types: purchase a share of the solar garden or sign up for a subscription. You can think of these two options as similar to buying or leasing your solar panels for a rooftop solar installation.
If you purchase a share of a solar garden, you pay for the panels upfront (or with a solar loan). If you sign up for a subscription, you agree to pay a monthly rate to the provider in exchange for a reduced rate on your electric bill. Community solar contracts also come in varying lengths – some are as short as ten years, while some can be 25 years or more.
NRG's community solar contracts are subscription-based with an "escalator," meaning you start with a fixed rate and see a slight increase each year. Their contracts generally have a 20-year term.
Community solar providers will typically offer savings as part of their product. If you buy a community solar share, the project developer will estimate your long-term savings based on your solar panels' expected production. If you subscribe to a share, the company will typically offer either a fixed discount on your electric bill or estimated savings based on projected utility electricity rate increases.
Your savings will depend on the contract you sign with a provider. NRG community solar projects offer fixed rates that will increase yearly but are projected to stay under utility electricity rates.
In most cases, community solar projects can only serve customers living within a particular geographic area near the project location. If you move or otherwise choose to cancel your contract, there are cancellation policies that you need to be aware of before you sign.
Some community solar providers will charge you a fee unless you transfer your share to another customer. Others do not charge a fee or require a transfer, but they charge you a penalty if you do not give sufficient notice. Under NRG's community solar contracts, you can avoid paying a cancellation fee if you transfer your share.
Rooftop solar gets a lot of attention, and for a good reason – when you buy a rooftop solar panel system, it pays for itself in just seven and a half years. However, not everyone can or wants to install a solar panel system on their roof.
If you're a renter, plan on moving soon, or don't have a good roof for solar, you're a great candidate for community solar. Additionally, some homeowners who already have solar panels on their roofs but can't cover all of their electricity needs with rooftop solar choose to sign up for community solar to achieve 100% renewable energy.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are 25 states with at least one active community solar project, and the market is expected to grow significantly in the next five years. EnergySage's Community Solar Marketplace has community solar projects from NRG and other providers. You can also submit a request to be notified when a new project in your area is added. Different project owners offer different bill structures, prices, and savings – comparing your options is the best way to find the community solar project that's right for you.
If you're trying to compare community solar vs. rooftop solar, get offers from multiple providers of each solar solution. You can use EnergySage's Solar Calculator to compare your estimated savings from various rooftop solar options, and you can receive rooftop solar offers from qualified installers on the EnergySage Marketplace. Whichever sustainable energy option you choose, you can be confident that you're reducing your impact on the environment and your electricity costs – that's what we call a solar win-win.