Community solar, as it is commonly called, allows you to use a part of your electricity bill to fund a local solar farm. Under the hood, community solar projects are made possible by state legislation.
When an eligible solar farm in your state generates and sells electricity to your electric utility, this legislation allows you to fund its operations and get a credit on your normal utility bill. This credit is always for the exact same amount. So it costs you nothing. It’s kind of like voting for renewable energy when you pay for electricity.
Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you normally pay $100 a month for electricity. Your monthly contribution to a solar project will be less than that amount. Let’s say it’s half, or $50. You’ll now pay the solar project $50 each month, but you’ll also get a $50 credit on your utility bill each month. So, you’re square.
However, there are a few interesting wrinkles to talk through. First, your electricity bill changes every month. Everyone’s does. Usually it’s cyclical with the seasons. Syncing your utility with Arcadia is crucial because it lets us track your energy use each month, and adjust your contribution to the local solar farm accordingly.
If your energy use ever unexpectedly drops off a cliff one month, and that months contribution to the local solar farm is more than your utility bill, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ll just see the difference as a credit on your next months utility bill.
The second wrinkle. Unfortunately, community solar programs require state legislation, and seats are limited. We have a whole team of energy policy experts at Arcadia who are working around the clock with state legislators to open up more states, and additional seats. Because the faster this takes off, the sooner we can stabilize our climate. More on this later.
And last, but certainly not least. You’ll actually save a bit of money by participating in community solar. Remember when we said you’ll pay the solar project $50 in our example? You won’t. You’ll actually pay less than that. No more than $45, and the credit on your utility bill will still be $50. At the end of they day, the more you contribute to the community solar farm, the more you’ll save. While it’s not a ton of money, every little bit does helps. And saving money while doing a whole lot of good for the planet, that’s a real win-win.
Community solar projects are local solar arrays that you, your neighbors, and area businesses can all subscribe to. A typical solar project is made up of 5,000 kilowatts of alternating current capacity, enough to support about 1,000 homes.
When you join a community solar project, you’re subscribing to a share of that project based on how much energy you use in a typical month. The project generates electricity, which your utility company purchases because solar power costs less than power generated by other sources, such as fossil fuels. You get a portion of the profits from your share of the project as a credit on your monthly electric bill. The solar developers use the rest to maintain the project.
The electricity from your project powers area homes and businesses with clean energy. By putting more solar energy into your local energy grid, you’re decreasing the demand for energy generated from fossil fuels. Your solar project makes your energy grid cleaner.
Clean energy is just one benefit to your community. Solar projects are typically located on leased land such as fallow farmland or the roofs of community buildings. Farmers and local businesses can not only subscribe to the project to save on energy costs, but they make money by leasing their space to the solar developers. The leased land can often be restored to its previous state after the lease ends. Community solar projects can also create jobs, lead to more local investment, and lower local taxes.
Looking for added environmental benefits? Farmers can allow livestock to graze in between the solar panels to keep vegetation in check. Some solar developers turn their project sites into pollinator-friendly habitats for butterflies, bees, and birds.
More and more states are realizing the benefits of community solar and creating policies to allow virtual net metering. In the next five years, the United States is set to add as much as 3.4 GW of community solar capacity. That will create enough energy to power 650,000 homes.
The goal of community solar has always been to make the benefits of solar power accessible to all residential energy users, no matter where they live. Rooftop solar panels are still out of reach for many people; just 34% of US homes are even eligible for rooftop solar panels. To install rooftop panels, you need to be a homeowner in a single-family home. Your home needs to have the right kind of roof that faces the right way. And you either need to have good credit to finance the installation or be able to pay the upfront cost of the panels, which can run between $11,000-15,0000 after tax credits. That’s just not possible for two-thirds of US households.
Community solar changes that by opening solar power up to anyone who pays a power bill. At Arcadia, we’re dedicated to making that even easier. We take care of the paperwork to subscribe our members to solar projects, and we don’t require a credit check or contract. There’s no cost to join a project or to cancel. We package your utility charges and your solar credits into one streamlined, easy-to-understand statement every month. Why? Because we believe that community solar is a critical component of cleaning up our energy grid and curbing carbon emissions.
Expanding access to community solar is part of our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to a 100% renewable energy future. We need to make that transition as quickly as possible to avoid the most dire consequences of climate change. Accessibility is the key to that transition. We believe that everyday people, if given an easy and affordable option, will choose clean energy every time. But it needs to be accessible.
Community solar is a tangible way to change the composition of your local energy grid. By participating, you are directly creating more clean energy on our grid, thereby reducing demand for harmful fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas.
Finally, this is a team sport. The more of us supporting local solar farms, the clearer it becomes to state legislators and regulators that we all care about where our energy comes from. And that means expansion to more states, more projects, and more renewable energy in our power grid.
1. “Community Solar.” SEIA.org. Solar Energy Industries Association. Web. Accessed 29 September 2020.
2. “Community Solar: How It Works.” Arcadia. 26 April 2018. Web. Accessed 29 September 2020.
3. How Community Solar Supports Rural Communities and Farmers.” SEIA.org. Solar Energy Industries Association. Web. Accessed 29 September 2020.
4. “Why Community Solar Solves Solar’s Biggest Problem.” Arcadia. 10 February 2020. Web. Accessed 29 September 2020.