What is Community Solar?

Don’t have a good roof for solar? Or do you rent rather than own? If you would like to take advantage of solar energy for your home, but cannot due to shading, orientation, roof structure or financial considerations, there is now another way.  Community Solar is an option for those who are interested in solar electricity but can’t have solar panels installed at their own house or apartment. Sometimes called a “solar garden” or “solar farm,” a community solar facility is a large, centralized solar power array. Electric utility customers in the same electricity “load zone” as the array are eligible to participate, whether they live in a house, condo, or apartment. This is a way to support solar energy while at the same time getting a savings on your utility bill.

How does it work?

Non-Ownership Models:

Massachusetts allows the development of “Community Solar Farms” to make solar energy available to any home.  Conceptually, it works like this.  A solar developer teams up with a solar construction company to build a large solar array (up to 5 Megawatts) on private land.  The solar farms can be located anywhere in the territory serviced by the home’s utility company (eastern MA for Needham Eversource customers).  The solar company then signs up customers to purchase the power that is generated.  The customers typically buy the power at a discount compared to what they would otherwise pay to Eversource.  The discount varies according to each community solar company, but typically amounts to 7% – 12.5%.

Here’s how it works for you as a community solar customer:

  • You are assigned a fixed percent of the farm’s output, based on your historical power consumption and cost.  The goal is to allocate each customer a portion of the solar output that will offset 100% of their annual electric costs.
  • Your electrical service will not be any different. Eversource is still responsible for servicing community solar customers.  Any problems with your electric power are addressed by Eversource.
  • You will receive two monthly bills – one from Eversource and one from the community solar company.
  • Since the electricity generated by a solar farm and the electricity you use varies from month to month, in any given month you may pay more or less than you did previously. However, over the course of an entire year, the net cash value you receive from the solar production (which will show up as a credit on your Eversource bill) should offset enough of the amount you paid for electricity to produce a net savings to you equivalent to the 7% – 12.5% discount.
  • Finally, please note that the solar power generated by your allocation does not specifically go to your house, but rather goes directly into the power grid.

In summary, with Community Solar:

  • Your home is now “solar powered,” in the sense that solar power is being fed into the grid to match the electricity you use.
  • Annual cost for your electricity will be less than your existing Eversource bill.
  • You pay nothing to join the community solar farm.
  • No construction is required at your home.
  • A typical contract is 20 years, with an ability to transfer it to another home if you move within your utility’s same service territory.
  • Cancellation policies are spelled out in the contracts offered by each company.

In order to become a member of a community solar farm, you will need to sign a contract with the community solar company.  As with any contract, read the terms carefully, including the length of the contract, whether there is a cancellation fee, how much notice must be given for cancellation, and whether the contract can be transferred to another home you move to, as long as it’s in the same service territory.

Are there companies planning community solar in the Needham area?

The companies below are offering community solar in Massachusetts. You can examine their offerings on the web via the links below.

  • Some community solar companies are accepting small non-residential customers.  Here in Needham, Temple Beth Shalom recently signed up with a community solar company to provide supplemental solar capacity for the synagogue.  The Temple’s onsite solar system could only provide 33% of their energy needs due to site limitations.  They now obtain the remaining 67% of the electricity needed via their community solar contract.

  •  If you do find a company offering community solar, ask questions!
    • When might the solar farm be built in our area — has a specific site already been found?
    • Is there a deposit required for signing up?
    • What happens to the deposit if the solar project doesn’t go through?
    • How much will you save? How is the billing handled?
    • How long is the contract?
    • What happens if you move during the term of the contract or if the company goes out of business?

Finally, Green Needham does not endorse/recommend any particular community solar company.