Let’s Talk Community Solar: A Win-Win Option

Our monthly blog, edited by Dayenu (climate action and environmental justice) Circle members Chris Wynn and Sharon Smaller, will give you ideas, information, resources, and actions you can do to make this world a better place environmentally, tikkun olam. As a community, we can learn from each other, so we welcome your ideas and questions. Please share with us your successes in your endeavors to “go green.”

You’d rather not spend time getting up to speed about community solar, right? How does it work? Why bother? Don’t even know what it means? Way too confusing? You don’t know where to start? Do you even qualify? Are there any other options?

With this edition of the Green Maven and a link to a great website with videos, you’ll be an expert in no time. Well, you’ll at least be able to make an informed decision, and you’ll come away with an understanding that signing up for community solar is a win in two ways. First, you reduce your carbon footprint by using clean, renewable energy, which is good for the planet. Second, you lower your energy costs, which is good for your household budget.

A local community solar farm (sometimes called a solar garden)) is developed in our area. The solar energy generated is sent to the power grid, helping replace fossil fuel-generated power supply with clean energy. When you subscribe to a community solar farm, you receive solar bill credits. The result is lower costs for your energy supply on your monthly bill.

Signing up for community solar can lower your overall electricity costs, while also supporting renewable energy development in Illinois. You can be supporting renewable energy even though you can’t install solar panels on your roof, or if you do have solar panels but they aren’t covering all of your electric needs, community solar can supplement your panels. It also is an avenue to participate in solar energy if you live in an apartment or condo building.

When you sign up for community solar with a community solar provider, you are subscribing to be part of a community solar farm. A solar farm is made up of many solar panels. Your subscription size is determined by how much electricity you have needed in the past on average. You purchase the electricity produced on your behalf (less a discount) and in return receive credits on your ComEd electric bill.

For example: let’s say your home uses 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in a month, and your portion of the solar farm that you subscribe to produces 950 kWh in that same month. You would get a credit on your bill for the 950 kWh that was generated by your subscription. This means you would only need to pay for the remaining 50 kWh. Separately, the company that built and manages the community solar farm then sends you a bill for that 950 kWh credit generated by your subscription, less a discount. That discount can vary depending on which provider you sign up with. Sometimes the solar farm will generate more solar energy than the energy you actually used. This would result in a “community supply generation credit” that rolls forward to future bills. This typically happens in the summer months due to more sun. One more reason to love a sunny day.

Two things to keep in mind:

1. The solar farm produces 100% clean solar energy and delivers it to the local power grid, so your actual home isn’t receiving solar power. The solar farm is generating solar power on your behalf and sending it to the grid.
2. The credits aren’t applied to the entire bill. They only apply to the “supply” section of your bill. Delivery, taxes, and fees are not impacted.

I have been using community solar, through Clearway, for three years now and have been tracking my overall savings. I receive a 20% savings of the community solar credits that I receive on my supply section of my ComEd bill. I have calculated that when everything is taken into consideration that I have saved 13 % annually on my total bill over the past three years.

If you have been receiving a stream of offers in the mail from renewable energy companies, you may feel that it’s hard to know whom to trust. It seems like they are offering clean energy but under what terms? An organization called Citizens Utility Board or CUB for short has done a lot of research on these various companies and their subscription offers. CUB is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan group that fights for the rights of utility customers across Illinois. Its website is loaded with great information and videos, including a great chart listing the companies it feels are reputable. You can find this chart on its website www.citizensutilityboard.org. Go to the Resources tab, then to Solar in the Community, then scroll down to Current Community Solar Deals. There is a list of companies currently offering subscriptions. By clicking on any of these companies, you will find information about how to subscribe and some of the pros and cons according to CUB. At the bottom of the list you can download a comparison chart.

Begin by looking at a copy of your most recent ComEd bill. Decide which community solar subscription offer seems right to you (based on savings, cancellation fees, etc., again using the CUB comparison chart as a useful resource). Go to the community solar farm provider website that you have chosen and begin the enrollment process. You might see some discussion about making sure you are using ComEd as your supplier. If you are not using ComEd as your electricity supplier, I’d be happy to discuss with you some of the additional considerations.

All residential and business customers can subscribe to a community solar farm as long as it’s located in their electric utility’s service territory. The minimum subscription is 200 watts or about one solar panel of the community solar farm.

Evanston and Wilmette both have a program you can sign on for if you’d rather not do any of the legwork. Both Evanston and Wilmette have partnered with MC Squared Energy Services and their solar energy provider is Soltage. If you sign up, you will save 10-20% of the energy credits that you receive on your bill. Remember this is not 10% of your total bill, only 10% savings of the community solar credits you receive on your ComEd bill Supply charges. To sign up or to put yourself on a reservation list go to the website. You will need your utility bill as part of this process. You are not obligated to participate by putting your name on the list. When a solar farm becomes available MC Squared Energy Services will contact you.

if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to email Chris.