Summer 2016
Vol. 2, Issue 2

What is community solar and how can it satisfy my energy needs?

Community solar (also known as “shared solar” or “solar gardens”) is an arrangement that allows a group of consumers to share the benefits of solar energy, by jointly owning a stake in a community solar facility or purchasing subscriptions to its energy output. This group may be a local community organization, or residents of an apartment building who want to jointly power their houses, apartment units, and businesses with solar-generated electricity.
Some consumers may encounter challenges to owning solar panels because of rules prohibiting installation on an apartment building or within a neighborhood governed by a homeowner’s association, for example. Or, the roof of the house may not fit the requirements for solar installation or the particular angle of the roof may not receive enough sunlight to fit the requirements. So, how can community solar provide a solution?

Here are the basics of how community solar works…

There are two major program models: ownership and subscription-based:

Ownership model:
With an ownership model, consumers purchase a stake in the project. In the ownership model, the consumers are responsible for the initial costs of the community solar facility, including land purchases or leases, the cost of the solar panels and their installation, and the ongoing operations and maintenance costs.
Subscription-based model:
With the subscription model, customers buy electricity at an express rate through the solar project that is owned by a competitive energy supplier, a solar company or the utility. The owner-company (the competitive energy supplier or the solar company) or the utility bears the set-up and maintenance costs.
Which model is most suitable for me?
Each model has its own benefits and risks. The upfront costs are higher but so may be the savings for consumers through the ownership model; the financial risk may be lower for subscription-based customers but the long-term savings may also be smaller.

Okay, it’s making sense, but how does community solar differ from rooftop solar?
With rooftop solar, the electricity produced is used directly to power your home or business and any deficit is supplied from the grid. With community solar, the electricity your apartment, home, or business uses from the grid is offset by your communal share of power produced by the community solar facility and placed onto the grid. There are also different program options for rooftop solar which include owning the panels outright and bearing all the costs and benefits associated, or leasing the panels or entering into a power purchase agreement. There is a one-time tax credit that is available to owners of rooftop solar that is not extended to those consumers in an ownership structure of a community solar project.

Is community solar available in my state?
Currently there are community solar programs supported in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Vermont, and Washington, DC.[1] There is pending legislation in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, Iowa, Rhode Island, and Virginia, and there are a handful of other states where, while there is no state-wide program, some individual community solar programs have been established.
Other tips to consider
  1. Just as your electricity bill varies month to month dependent on use, your solar output also varies. When considering how big a share you want to purchase or subscribe to, it is important to look at your past energy bills to determine how much solar you will likely need.
  2. To compare price offers between subscription based services and ownership programs be sure to know the price per watt.
  3. What is the net metering policy of your state? Can you sell back unused solar production? And, if so, at what price?

Community solar enables all consumers to share the benefits of solar energy, particularly for those who are unwilling or unable to install solar panels on their own property, by jointly owning a stake in a community solar facility or purchasing subscriptions to its energy output. For more information about community solar in your state, check with your state public utility commission, your competitive energy supplier, or your utility to obtain more information about community solar programs.
Stay tuned for issue two of two of the ACCES summer series!

-The ACCES team
[1] Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Issues & Policies: Shared Renewables/Community Solar.

New on

ACCES is excited to host a breakfast workshop on Consumer Protection and Retail Energy: Best Principles and Practices. The workshop will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. ET on June 22, 2016 at the Williamsburg Lodge in Williamsburg, VA. Email us at to RSVP!

ACCES spokesman Michael Meath was a second time guest on the WKIP radio program, the Hudson Valley Focus Live Show in New York, discussing the sweeping order issued by the New York PSC in the retail energy industry and what it means for consumer choice. Listen to the interview here.

ACCES chats with L.A. Tarone of WLK 103.1 FM in PA on consumer rights, smart meters, and more. Listen to the interview here.


The American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers (ACCES) is a group of competitive retail natural gas and electricity suppliers committed to education and outreach to help consumers better understand and take advantage of the benefits of energy choice.

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