Community solar programs are a great way to help clean the power grid, and at the same time, they help people save money. Depending on location and average usage, customers can expect to save 5% to 15% on their electricity costs each year. These savings are significant because electricity consumption makes up a large portion of an individual’s carbon footprint. In addition, about 40% of the U.S. electric grid is powered by clean energy sources, while dirty fossil fuels power the remaining 60%.
Subscription-based community solar programs have a few key advantages. For one, they are more financially attractive than other models. The cost of installing panels may vary over time, but a subscription model’s reliance on a fixed subscription rate and a fixed rate for bill credit reduces this risk. Another benefit of subscription models is the flexibility to adjust prices without sacrificing project economics.
Subscription-based community solar programs typically offer a fixed discount over the utility tariff rate. As a result, subscription-based community solar programs usually provide an instant electricity bill reduction. Some focus on delivering an environmentally-friendly alternative to utility companies, while others focus on lowering consumer utility costs. In addition, some community solar subscription programs offer various payment options, such as flat monthly rates or lease-to-own agreements.
Subscription-based community solar programs, including minimum credit scores or down payments, may be limited by regulations. Therefore, it’s essential to check the terms and conditions of any solar community program and determine whether it is transferable to new subscribers. In addition, be sure to understand how many subscribers are required to sign up for the program. Larger community solar projects typically benefit from economies of scale and can offer more attractive pricing.
Community solar programs offer different ownership and participation models. According to NREL, there are three main models: nonprofit, special-purpose entity, and utility-sponsored. Each of these models has pros and cons, and it is essential to understand them before choosing one. If you’re considering community solar, it’s necessary to understand each option’s pros and cons before deciding.
In the ownership model, participants purchase a panel from the developer or special-purpose entity that owns the solar community project. In exchange, they receive credits on their utility bill that reflect the energy produced by the panel. Another model is the subscription model. In this model, consumers don’t pay up-front fees but receive immediate savings. The benefit of the subscription model is that it enables low-income community members to participate in community solar programs.
The host or third-party organization selects a community solar project site. The sponsor will sell solar panels to utility subscribers to subsidize the costs of construction, equipment, and operations. The sponsor also obtains financing for the project. Finally, the host or sponsor builds and maintains the project on its land. In exchange, the subscribers receive virtual net metering credits for using solar panels.
A cost model for community solar programs is an excellent way to assess the benefits of a project. Community solar programs require a certain amount of community support and can be a perfect way to increase the local supply of clean energy. A utility planning a solar community project can find a community group that will act as a sponsor and engages with prospective subscribers. This group can help gauge your interest and provide information on eligibility requirements, participation costs, payment frequency, and expected commitments. They should also provide information about the project’s anticipated savings and environmental benefits.
Choosing the suitable cost model for community solar programs will depend on the cash flow model for the project owner. Most community solar projects use a hybrid model that combines upfront payments with ongoing fees. One type of cost model is a power purchase agreement.
States Where Competition Drives Down Cost
The federal government is stepping up support for community solar programs. Federal funding is included in the Build Back Better bill, which should drive down the cost of the programs and boost customer savings. But the challenge is still before the states, where strong bill sponsors and diverse coalitions are needed to overcome utility opposition.
For instance, California leads the nation in rooftop solar installations but has not yet created a viable community solar market. That’s because California’s median home price has soared more than $1 million. As a result, building solar community projects in the state is difficult, especially for homeowners without solar panels on their rooftops.
But it’s crucial to remember that monopolies are costly for consumers, entrepreneurs, and democracy. That’s why every state should make it easy to form groups of customers, allowing them to share information on their electricity use and be paid for it.