Community Solar Programs: What You Need to Know

solar farm

Are you considering a community solar program? Wondering what a community solar program is? 

With a community solar program, you don’t need a solar panel system of your own. Think of community solar programs like a co-op with shared renewable resources. Instead of small solar panel systems at a number of properties, a large solar farm generates electricity for the entire group to share. It’s a fantastic option for most people who want to switch to green energy but don’t have the means to do so on their own.

If you’re interested in making the switch to a community solar program there are a few things you need to know.

Community Solar Programs Are Becoming More Common

The idea of a community solar program may sound novel, but it’s actually more common than most people realize. Currently, there is at least one community solar farm in 40 states, and over 2,050 megawatts of community solar power was installed by the end of 2019. 

Given that the U.S. solar market is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years despite the COVID-19 pandemic, community solar programs should become available in more markets.

Solar for All – Owners, Renters, and Businesses

Community solar programs were developed as a way to make solar energy accessible to more people, including renters and small business owners that want clean electricity. There are a lot of reasons why installing a personal solar panel system isn’t possible, even if you own a property. For example, if your roof is shaded throughout most of the day or your HOA won’t allow solar panels that are visible from the street. Upfront cost is another factor that prevents people from going solar. 

By joining a community solar program these concerns are eliminated. Becoming a program member means that you are essentially part-owner of an offsite solar farm. It may not be on your property, but the power that’s generated will be used to cover your electricity needs in the form of credits.

Even municipalities can tap into a community solar program. The benefit here is that the investment has already been made and the infrastructure is already in place. 

Every Solar Community Farm Can Help the Overall Electric Grid

Every gigawatt that is added to the grid is crucial for meeting the growing electricity demand. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) projects that electricity demand will increase at a steady pace for the next 30 years. Right now our electric grids are near capacity during certain times of the year.

Community solar farms are actually connected to local electricity grids. When the solar farm generates electricity it relieves some of the pressure to supply nearby homes and businesses with energy. The only real difference is its an independent source of clean energy.

People Join Community Solar Programs Through an Electricity Provider That Issues Credits

Even though power is coming from a local solar farm, retail electric providers are still a part of the process. Here’s how the process works:

  • The program orchestrators build a community solar farm and connect it to the local electric grid.
  • They then partner with retail electricity providers in the area to make the program available to residents and business owners. People can sign up for the program through their provider. 
  • Once the utility bill arrives you’ll receive a credit for your share of the electricity that was generated by the community solar farm. The credits reduce what is owed to the utility provider, possibly eliminating the cost entirely. 
  • You’ll receive a bill from the community solar program for the cost of the credits, usually for a discounted rate.

It’s important to analyze your monthly energy needs so that you are assigned an adequate portion of the solar farm. If not, your electricity consumption won’t be completely offset.