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Green power plans, community choice aggregation, community solar: why we recommend community solar

From green power plans to community choice aggregation to community solar, there are an increasing number of options when it comes to electricity these days, and understandably, it’s not always easy to make a decision.

While we at EnergySage are onboard with any power options that support the environment and further decarbonize our electricity, we’re especially excited about community solar – in this article, we’ll explain a few reasons why.

Key takeaways

  1. Community solar is becoming an increasingly popular electricity option

  2. There’s a lot to love about community solar, from accessibility, to savings, to environmental benefits

  3. Visit EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace to explore open community solar projects near you

#1. Community solar is accessible

It hasn’t always been easy for everyone to access the financial and environmental benefits of renewable energy – geographic limitations, lack of suitable financing options, upfront costs, price premiums, and property ownership requirements are a few barriers that make it difficult for many to take part in the clean energy revolution.

Community solar removes a lot of these barriers, offering a low-commitment way to support the environment:

  1. It doesn’t matter whether you rent or own your home – you only need an electric bill to join a community solar farm.

  2. You can join a local community solar farm without paying anything upfront.

  3. You don’t need to install any equipment, deal with any maintenance, or go through any change in electrical service to participate.

  4. Most community solar companies allow you to cancel when you want to, without paying penalty fees.

  5. With community solar, you typically pay less–not more–for electricity (more on that below).

Admittedly, community solar isn’t an option for people in every state, but we expect that to change: according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), at least 40 states already have one community solar project online, with nearly 20 implementing policies and programs that encourage the growth of “shared renewables.” Forecasts also indicate we’ll see more than 4 gigawatts (GW) of new solar capacity come from additional community solar projects over the next five years.

All this is to say, the community solar train isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and more and more states will hop on board in the near future. If you want to learn more about states with high community solar potential, check out our article about the state markets currently heating up.

#2. Community solar is an easy way to save on electric bills

As a community solar subscriber, you agree to purchase a share of energy from a solar farm. Most companies sell this energy at a fixed discount between 10 and 20 percent, meaning you pay less for it than what your utility company charges. And because the discounts are typically fixed, you’ll lock in guaranteed savings – regardless of how much the price of electricity rises or falls in your area.

Importantly, your subscription savings will vary by month because of the seasonality of solar energy (we have more on that topic here). But, over the course of 12-months, you should expect to save between 5 and 15 percent on your annual electric bills.

Of all the reasons listed here, this is one of the biggest advantages of community solar over other energy options: as you shop around for cleaner electricity alternatives, you’ll notice that many green power plans–whether they’re offered from a retail energy provider (REP), your utility company, or a community choice aggregation–charge a price premium. According to a study out of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), residential customers participating in green power plans paid an extra “…$0.018/kWh, or about $195/year based on average home electricity use.”

Why not move forward with an alternative energy option that’s beneficial to both the environment and your wallet? Remember, renewable energy is consistently cheaper than fossil fuel options today – with AND without subsidies. So before agreeing to pay more for green power, ask yourself: what are you paying a price premium for?

#3. Community solar is local

After you buy energy from a solar farm, your utility company will apply credits onto your electric bill, taking into account the total amount of energy the solar farm produced for the grid and your share of that energy. Given your utility’s role in this process, you’re typically only able to subscribe to community solar projects located in your electricity service territory. While this sometimes means limited options, it also means that any solar farm you buy energy from will be relatively close by. You’ll know exactly where the project is, and may even drive by it on your daily commute. There’s a chance your local friends or neighbors even work for the companies that build or maintain the project!

Some green power options source their renewable electricity from local projects, but it’s by no means a guarantee. For example, companies often build green power plans using existing, unbundled renewable energy certificates (RECs) from large wind projects across the country. If locality is important to you and you want to support clean electricity on your grid, make sure to ask where the energy provider is sourcing the renewable energy from before signing up.

RECs are not created equal: bundled vs. unbundled

One REC always represents the renewable energy attributes of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity. That said, RECs still come in different shapes and sizes: some are bundled (i.e. tied to the original kilowatt-hour of electricity generated), while others are unbundled (i.e. sold separately from the original electricity production that they represent). Between the two, bundled RECs are typically considered more “local” since utilities will need to purchase the energy close by. We have additional information about bundled vs. unbundled RECs here if you want to read more about the topic.

#4. Community solar encourages additive renewable energy

As we mentioned above, it’s pretty common for REPs and utility companies to build green power options using RECs from existing wind projects all over the country. The key word here is “existing” – when you buy green power, you’re most often buying RECs from projects that have already been built. So, while you can claim to run your home on clean energy, your purchase does not directly increase the amount of renewable energy generation in our country, or encourage the development of new renewable energy facilities.

It’s different with community solar: when you sign up for a project, there’s a good chance it hasn’t been built yet. Your subscription provides the buy-in that community solar companies need to fund these projects – as well as additional ones in your area! In other words, your investment encourages additive renewable energy generation, helping to create a cleaner, more stable electric grid.

Get started comparing community solar options on EnergySage

EnergySage is the nation’s leading online solar marketplace; using our Community Solar Marketplace, you can compare local options, get a quick community solar savings estimate, and seamlessly subscribe to an open project in your area. Over 10 million people come to EnergySage each year to learn about, shop for and invest in solar. Compare your community solar options today today to see how much you can save with solar.

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