With community solar, you can subscribe to a share of a solar farm near you. If you have an electric bill, you can support renewables without installing anything on your property – and save money!Illinois is one of the most recent states to adopt community solar, having done so with the passing of the Future Energy Jobs Act in late 2016. Since then, the market has grown substantially thanks to the Illinois Shines program, which provides financial incentives for community solar projects. Though later to the game than other Midwestern states (looking at you, Minnesota), IL is well-positioned to become one of the top states for community solar in the U.S.
A community solar project is a solar farm whose electricity is shared by more than one property. The primary purpose of a community solar farm is to allow members of a community to share the benefits of solar power even if they cannot or prefer not to install solar panels on their property. Project participants benefit from the electricity generated by the community solar farm, which costs less than the price they would ordinarily pay to their utility.
Savings differ from program to program, and also vary by month. On average, most community solar subscribers in Illinois receive a 5-10% discount off of traditional electricity costs over the course of a year.
Signing up for community solar is extremely simple – especially when you do so through the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace! Here’s a list of the steps you’ll need to take through our Marketplace in order to sign up:
Community solar could be a great option for you. It has many different benefits including traditional benefits of going solar like environmental friendliness and cost savings.
Community solar programs help support local renewable energy jobs and project development in Illinois, connecting you directly to clean energy projects in your community.
You can save 5-10% off of your annual electricity costs with community solar.
Unlike rooftop solar, you don’t need to own your property to take advantage of community solar (you just need an electric bill!)
Many community solar farms have no subscription fee and are easy to opt-out of. Plus, you don’t need to install or maintain any equipment on your property.
Virtual net metering (VNM) is a bill crediting system for community solar. It refers to when solar is not used on-site but is instead externally installed and shared among subscribers. In this case, you receive credits on your electric bill for excess energy produced by your share of a solar garden.
The Future Energy Jobs Act allows community solar customers to access virtual net metering in Illinois.
Electricity bill savings differ from program to program, and also vary by month. On average, most community solar farm subscribers receive a discount between 5-10% off of traditional electricity costs over the course of a year.
After subscribing to a community solar program, you will start receiving two separate bills: you’ll continue receiving a monthly bill from your utility company, but this bill will include any applicable credits from the community solar farm. You will also receive a separate bill from your community solar provider for the cost of your share or subscription.
Sign up or membership fees vary depending on the project, provider, and payment model – many community solar providers offer $0-down subscription options, while others may charge a small, initial sign-up fee to get you up and running.
It depends – if you’re moving to a location that’s still in the same electricity service territory as your current home, you may be able to transfer your community solar subscription to your new address. However, if you’re moving further away, you may need to cancel your subscription or transfer your contract to another utility customer (whether that be the new homeowners or someone else in the project’s service territory). Cancellation and transfer terms and applicable fees vary by project and provider, so confirm these policies with your provider prior to signing up.
Before signing a contract with a community solar provider, it’s important to compare estimated savings, cancellation terms, project location, payment model, subscription fees, and more. Using the Community Solar Marketplace, you can compare multiple local options and find the best project for you.
Renters: If you’re a renter, subscribing to a community solar project is your best option for going solar. As a renter, with community solar, you can save money on electric bills, have flexible contract options, and support the local development of clean energy.
Homeowners: Community solar is also a great option for homeowners. If you own your home but your roof isn’t suitable for solar panels, or you aren’t ready for the upfront cost of rooftop solar, community solar can help you save money on your electric bill.
Business owners: If you own a business and are looking for a way to save on utility costs, community solar could be ideal for you. With community solar, you can expect to pay 5-15% less for electricity than the market rate in your area.
There are 3 community solar developers offering 6 active projects in Illinois.
Which option is right for you?
Here are some of the main differences to keep in mind as you’re deciding between community and rooftop solar:
|Community solar||Rooftop solar|
|Cost||No upfront cost||Does have an upfront cost; $0-down financing available|
|Savings||Lower savings||Maximum long-term savings|
|Accessibility||Available to renters & property owners||Only available to property owners|
|Maintenance||No maintenance required||Maintenance may be required and is the responsibility of the system owner|
|Incentives||Not eligible for most solar incentives||Eligible for state and federal solar incentives (e.g. the federal tax credit)|
|Property value benefits||Has no impact on property value||Increases property value|
There are plenty of misconceptions out there about community solar, but luckily we’re here to help clarify. Here are some of the truths about community solar:
Since you don’t need to have a suitable rooftop for solar to participate in a community solar project, it’s a great option for renters and people who live in shared housing. By purchasing a share of or subscribing to a community solar project, everybody can benefit from solar while paying less for electricity.
Back in the day, community solar often cost more than what you’d otherwise pay your utility – so it’s understandable if you still think that’s the case. However, it’s the opposite! By signing up for community solar, you’ll actually save money on an annual basis.
Ever received a letter in the mail urging you to sign up for a clean electricity plan? Or had someone knock on your door asking you to sign up for a green power plan? Community solar is not the same thing! Here’s a breakdown of how community solar compares to other electricity options:
|Community solar||Community choice aggregation||Green power||Standard utility offering|
|Generates savings||Typically yes||Sometimes||Typically no||No|
|Supports local renewable energy development||Yes||Sometimes||Typically no||No|
|Has consolidating billing||Typically no||Typically yes||Sometimes||Yes|
|Do you get renewable energy certificates (RECs)||Typically no||Typically yes||Yes||No|
To learn more about these electricity plans, check out this article.
Community solar can take up a lot of space, so it’s easy to be confused about how it’s environmentally friendly – don’t these projects clear trees? While some solar farms will require the cutting of trees, many don’t! In fact, a lot of community solar projects are built on otherwise unusable land like landfills or brownfield sites. Some states even provide financial incentives to developers who choose to build projects on these sites. And overall, even if some trees need to be cleared for a community solar project to be developed, the net environmental benefit is still worth it in most cases.
Many people think that signing up for community solar means a long-term commitment – and we understand why! In the past, community solar subscriptions were often structured similarly to power purchase agreements in which you’re locked in for 20 or even 25 years. However, today, community solar subscriptions are much more flexible. Most companies don’t require a long-term agreement and you can cancel your subscription for free.