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The pros and cons of community solar

Community solar is an enticing option for those looking to take advantage of a solar energy source without installing a system on their own property or having to own solar panels. This unique type of solar project has a large central solar power plant whose energy can be shared potentially by thousands of people on the electric grid with either subscription or ownership plans. This flexible and consumer-friendly solar project plan is perfect for those who don’t want to install solar panels on their property, and especially those who want to reduce both their carbon emissions and their energy bill. As with any energy choice, there are pros and cons to participating in a community solar program. In this article, we’ll dive into some of the primary benefits of community solar, as well as explaining its downsides and how best to keep them in mind as you compare community solar options.

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Key takeaways: what are the top benefits of community solar?

  1. Community solar is a way to save money on your electric bills – this is the primary benefit for most customers. They are also a great way to combat climate change.

  2. Community solar options have increasingly flexible terms, and they’re a great option for renters who want to go solar as opposed to homeowners who may benefit from rooftop panels.

  3. Community solar isn’t yet available in every state, and you likely won’t be able to take advantage of most incentives as a solar subscriber.

  4. Get started with community solar today on the EnergySage Marketplace by comparing local projects that can save you money.

What’s in this article?

Pros of community solar

Like rooftop solar, there are many benefits associated with community solar. Here are some of the top pros of community solar power:

#1. You can save on electricity costs with community solar

One of the biggest advantages of community solar is the associated electricity bill savings. The amount you can save with community solar varies depending on a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  1. The pricing model of the program you participate in,

  2. Your current electricity rates,

  3. The cost of your community solar purchase or subscription,

  4. How much electricity you receive from the community solar farm.

As a general rule of thumb, many community solar participants save anywhere from 5 to 15 percent off of their typical electricity bills. However, some community solar programs may be more expensive than your current electricity bill, so it’s important to evaluate both expected monthly bills and long-term savings as you’re deciding whether or not to join a community solar program in order to save on energy costs.

#2. Community solar programs are available to renters & shared properties

One barrier to installing a rooftop solar system is that you need full ownership rights of your roof in order to install the system, as well as having to install equipment on-site. This restriction makes it infeasible for tens of millions of Americans to generate clean energy on their own property. Community solar is a viable option if you’re a renter or share your roof, enabling you to take advantage of low cost renewable energy  without installing any panels on your property. You’ll also not have to worry about the high upfront costs of traditional panels.

Importantly, if you move regularly and are considering signing a community solar contract, it’s worth confirming what will happen to your contract if you move: some community solar companies allow you to transfer the contract to the new renter/owner or another customer in the same local utility region, while others charge a cancellation fee.

#3. Community solar options are flexible

Historically, one of the roadblocks in widespread community solar adoption was the structure of the programs and contracts. Many community solar programs used to require long-term contracts with hefty cancellation fees, making it difficult for some customers to commit and making the cancellation process onerous and expensive. Today, community solar companies are frequently opening new programs that remove these barriers, allowing customers to opt into shorter-term contracts, and simplifying the process of canceling or transferring their community solar contract. 

If you’re curious about how community solar works and what it is at a high level, check out our video below:

Cons of community solar

Community solar may not be the best option for everyone; here are some downsides to keep in mind:

#1. Community solar customers are often not eligible for solar incentives

Many people who invest in a community solar program do so under a subscription model; with this pricing model, you don’t own the solar arrays at the farm, but rather pay for electricity generated at the solar farm at a rate that’s typically lower than what you’re paying your utility company. Many solar incentives are only available to people who purchase and own a solar panel system; with a community solar subscription, because you don’t own any part of the solar farm, you’re not eligible for solar incentives like tax credits or rebates, as your community solar company or developer is taking advantage of those incentives themselves.

The exception to this rule is if you’re participating in a community solar ownership model, which means you purchase and own a specific share of a community solar farm. While this program type is less common than subscription programs, those who participate in an ownership program may be eligible for federal and/or state-specific solar incentives, but it is not guaranteed.

#2. Community solar farms can take up a lot of space

When developers build an off-site community solar project, they require a lot of sunny, uninterrupted space. Depending upon the company and the size of the solar project, it’s possible that the community solar farm you buy into required land clearing in order to be built. This can create unintended environmental consequences, from deforestation to habitat loss.

Many of the downsides associated with the land footprint of community solar can be solved by refraining from clearing new land and building projects on previously cleared, otherwise unusable plots of land, such as landfills or brownfields. Additionally, many community solar farms can be built for dual-land use: livestock like sheep can continue their grazing practices around and throughout solar farms, and can even benefit from the shade the panels provide on sunny days!

If environmental stewardship and reducing your reliance on fossil fuels is one of the primary reasons you’re considering a community solar project, you may want to consider moving forward with a company that demonstrates sustainability and proper land-use practices. 

#3. Community solar isn’t available in every state

Community solar is becoming more and more popular every day, but it’s not yet available in every state: as of September 2019, only 19 states in the United States have active community solar policies, but the number is growing each year.

In order to build a state’s community solar market, local governments need to pass legislation that enables customers to take advantage of solar electricity produced remotely. Most states with community solar offer virtual net metering benefits, but there are other forms of remote solar energy credits in various states. 

Evaluate your solar options on EnergySage

Want to explore open community solar projects in your area and reduce your carbon footprint? Check out the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace, where you can see a list of open community projects from state to state. These listings include important details about the open project, such as the participation model, solar company, and regions where it’s available. If there aren’t community solar projects available in your area just yet, you can sign up to receive updates as new projects go live closeby. Alternatively, if you already have a community solar contract in-hand and want to compare it to the rooftop solar panel installation process  for on your own property, register to receive up to seven solar quotes on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.

See community solar options in your area in 2023

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