Unveiling the Benefits of Community Solar: A Step Towards a Sustainable Future

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Unveiling the Benefits of Community Solar: A Step Towards a Sustainable Future

Many people don’t have access to solar because they rent, live in multi-tenant buildings, or their roofs are unsuitable for installation. Community solar makes renewable energy accessible to all and helps reduce the energy burden of low-income households. Joining a community solar project requires no change to your electricity service and results in monthly savings on your utility bill through the issuance of bill credits. Learn more about the benefits of community solar.

Increased Community Cohesiveness

Community solar is different from a home solar installation in that it is owned and operated by a local utility or energy supplier. This allows people without access to rooftops or whose roofs cannot accommodate panels—or who may not be ready for the upfront costs of a solar system—to participate in solar and save money. These customers are known as subscribers, and when they subscribe to a community solar project or farm, they receive credits on their electric bill for the energy produced by the project. Some projects use the utility ownership model, while others are run as co-ops or are private installations. The benefit to communities is that it provides jobs, economic opportunities and a more environmentally sustainable way to produce electricity. Unlike home solar, community solar is accessible to everyone—including renters, homeowners, businesses, schools, religious institutions and more. It also doesn’t require any changes to utility connections or interruptions to service, and it is easy to transfer subscriptions during life events such as moves. Learn more about community solar benefits by searching the internet or asking for reviews from your family and friends.

Many communities are expanding their community solar offerings to include low-income households. However, to ensure that low-income families realize the benefits of community solar, programs should consist of consumer protections such as avoiding flat fees over the reduction on their energy bills or cancellation fees and using consolidated billing to reflect community solar credits on one account.

Reduced Energy Bills

With rising electricity prices, community solar programs are an effective way for people to reduce their bills and transition to clean energy. To participate, people do not need to own a roof or live in the same utility area. By aggregating user demand and supply, community solar projects can offer economic benefits that individuals can’t get with rooftop solar, like economies of scale and access to financing. The community solar model typically involves an array in a nearby town or city connected to the local electric grid. Residents can voluntarily “subscribe” to the project by paying for a portion of the farm’s electricity output, typically at a discounted rate. The community solar provider then credits customers’ monthly utility bills with the amount of power their share generated, reducing their overall charges. This is known as virtual net metering. These electricity savings can be a lifesaver for low- and moderate-income households. Households with incomes at or below twice the poverty level spend 3.5 times as much of their income on energy costs and are often unable to afford rooftop solar.

Reduced Carbon Footprint

Community solar allows homeowners and renters to save on electricity bills while supporting renewable energy generation. Unlike rooftop solar, which requires someone to own their home or roof space, community solar is a subscription model that offers access to clean energy for people who cannot host their system — because they live in multi-tenant buildings, lack the savings to make an upfront investment, aren’t creditworthy, or have other mitigating factors.

Community solar projects generate and deliver emission-free solar power to the electric grid. Your utility company then credits your electricity bill based on the amount of solar energy you consume, reducing your overall electricity charges.

A key benefit of community solar is that it helps preserve natural resources like land and water by reducing the need for fossil fuels. The extraction and transportation of these non-renewable resources can negatively impact the environment, including the destruction of habitats for wildlife and pollution of nearby water sources; in addition to providing energy savings for consumers, community solar benefits local economies by creating jobs in the renewable energy sector. This is especially true for local communities that cannot develop their community solar projects, such as low-income residents living in housing authority complexes who will soon be able to save on their electricity bills through an innovative partnership.

Increased Resilience

Community solar projects provide access to clean energy without owning rooftop panels. This can be especially important for low-income individuals who may live in regions with high levels of air pollution and have exacerbated health conditions. Additionally, by subscribing to community solar, these individuals can support the development of local renewable energy projects, creating jobs and stimulating economic growth within their communities. Many community solar programs ask customers to pay upfront for their subscriptions, which can be challenging for low-income consumers who need more disposable income or credit scores to afford this financial investment. To increase the accessibility of community solar for these consumers, it is recommended that developers consider various economic models, including leasing and purchase-power-agreement (PPA) schemes. Another way to increase the accessibility of community solar is to establish a community solar co-op, where individuals work together to fund a solar farm through subscriptions. These groups can then lease a site from their utility or a third-party host and produce electricity on the land, benefiting from the same financial benefits as homeowner solar. The first step to establishing a community solar co-op is to survey potential subscribers to determine their interest, willingness to pay, and expectations of benefits. In addition, utilities must play a role in community solar from the start to build the processes and systems necessary to meter, value, and credit community-generated power for their customers.

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