Community solar is an enticing option for anyone looking to take advantage of solar energy without installing a system on your property. This unique type of solar project has a large central solar power plant that can share energy with thousands of people on the electric grid with either subscription or ownership plans. As with any energy choice, community solar has its pros and cons. In this article, we'll dive into some of the primary benefits of community solar and explain its downsides and how best to keep them in mind as you compare community solar options.
Key Takeaways: what are the top benefits of community solar?
Community solar is a way to save money on your electric bills – this is the primary benefit for most customers. They are also a great way to combat climate change.
Community solar options have increasingly flexible terms, and they're an excellent option for renters who want to go solar as opposed to homeowners who may benefit from rooftop panels.
Community solar isn't yet available in every state, and you likely won't be able to take advantage of most incentives as a solar subscriber.
Get started with community solar today on the EnergySage Marketplace by comparing local projects that can save money.
Like rooftop solar, there are many benefits associated with community solar. Here are some of the top pros of community solar power:
#1. You can save on electricity costs with community solar
One of the most significant advantages of community solar is the associated electricity bill savings. The amount you can save with community solar varies depending on several factors, including but not limited to:
The pricing model of the program you participate in,
Your current electricity rates,
The cost of your community solar purchase or subscription,
How much electricity you receive from the community solar farm.
As a general rule of thumb, many community solar participants save 5 to 15 percent off their typical electricity bills. However, some community solar programs may be more expensive than your current electricity bill, so evaluating both expected monthly bills and long-term savings is essential as you decide whether to join a community solar program to save on energy costs.
#2. Community solar programs are available to renters & shared properties
One barrier to installing a rooftop solar system is that you need full ownership rights of your roof to install the system and have to install equipment onsite. This restriction makes it infeasible for millions of Americans to generate clean energy on their property. Community solar is a viable option if you're a renter or share your roof, enabling you to use low-cost renewable energy without installing any panels on your property. You also won't have to worry about the high upfront costs of traditional panels.
Importantly, suppose you move regularly and are considering signing a community solar contract. In that case, it's worth confirming what will happen to your contract if you move. Some community solar companies allow you to transfer the contract to the new renter/owner or another customer in the same local utility region, while others charge a cancellation fee.
#3. Community solar options are flexible
Historically, one of the roadblocks to widespread community solar adoption was the structure of the programs and contracts. Many community solar programs used to require long-term contracts with hefty cancellation fees, making it difficult for some customers to commit and making the cancellation process onerous and expensive. Today, community solar companies frequently open new programs that remove these barriers, allowing customers to opt into shorter-term contracts and simplifying the process of canceling or transferring their community solar contract.
If you're curious about how community solar works and what it is at a high level, check out our video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSOZt2FNhCY
Community solar may not be the best option for everyone; here are some downsides to keep in mind:
#1. Community solar customers are often not eligible for solar incentives
Many people who invest in a community solar program do so under a subscription model; with this pricing model, you don't own the solar arrays at the farm but instead pay for electricity generated at the solar farm at a rate that's typically lower than what you're paying your utility company. Many solar incentives are only available to people who purchase and own a solar panel system; with a community solar subscription, because you don't own any part of the solar farm, you're not eligible for solar incentives like tax credits or rebates, as your community solar company or developer is taking advantage of those incentives themselves.
The exception to this rule is if you're participating in a community solar ownership model, which means you purchase and own a specific share of a community solar farm. While this program type is less common than subscription programs, those participating in an ownership program may be eligible for federal and state-specific solar incentives, but it is not guaranteed.
#2. Community solar farms can take up a lot of space
When developers build an off-site community solar project, they require a lot of sunny, uninterrupted space. Depending upon the company and the size of the solar project, the community solar farm you buy into may require land clearing to be built. This can create unintended environmental consequences, from deforestation to habitat loss.
Many of the downsides associated with the land footprint of community solar can be solved by refraining from clearing new land and building projects on previously cleared, otherwise unusable plots of land, such as landfills or brownfields. Additionally, many community solar farms can be built for dual-land use: livestock like sheep can continue grazing around and throughout solar farms. It can even benefit from the shade the panels provide on sunny days!
Suppose environmental stewardship and reducing your reliance on fossil fuels is one of the primary reasons you're considering a community solar project. In that case, you may consider moving forward with a company that demonstrates sustainability and proper land-use practices.
#3. Community solar isn't available in every state
Community solar is becoming increasingly popular every day. Still, it's not yet available in every state: as of September 2019, only 19 states in the United States have active community solar policies, but the number is growing each year.
To build a state's community solar market, local governments must pass legislation enabling customers to use solar electricity produced remotely. Most states with community solar offer virtual net metering benefits, but other forms of remote solar energy credits exist in various states.
Evaluate your solar options on EnergySage.
Want to explore open community solar projects in your area and reduce your carbon footprint? Check out the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace, where you can see a list of available community projects from state to state. These listings include important details about the open project, such as the participation model, solar company, and regions where it's available. If there aren't community solar projects in your area just yet, you can sign up to receive updates as new projects go live nearby. Alternatively, if you already have a community solar contract and want to compare it to the rooftop solar panel installation process on your own property, register to receive up to seven solar quotes on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.