New Solar Options for Electric Customers:
Community Solar and Solar Sharing
What is community solar?
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?
- In some places participants buy shares in the solar farm. Their investments allow them to get credit on their electric bill for a certain amount of the net metering credits produced by the solar garden. Examples: Brewster Community Solar Garden Cooperative, Sippican Community Solar Garden Cooperative, and Harvard Solar Garden. There are currently no cooperative models open to Needham residents.
- In this model, community solar participants do not invest or purchase shares in the solar facility. Instead, with no upfront investment, they contract to buy a certain share of solar net metering credits produced by a large solar array. The credits show up on their regular utility bill as a positive dollar value that lowers the bill. Customers have no maintenance or repair responsibilities for the panels.
- In a separate transaction, participants pay the community solar company for these credits at a discount, usually 5% – 15%. (Let’s say that on your monthly bill you had $100 credit from the solar power produced by your share of the facility. With a 5% discount, you would pay the community solar company $95 for that $100 credit, leaving you with a $5 gain.) It’s hard to explain — best to look at the companies’ websites for information and FAQ’s.
Are there companies planning community solar in the Needham area?
- In Needham’s load zone, solar sites are more expensive and harder to find than in other parts of the state, and as of February, 2017, Green Needham knows of no community sites being planned in our area. The field of shared solar is continually evolving, however. A computer search for “community shared solar Eversource” may give you some leads.
- 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?
Pairing up Sun “Hosts” and Sun “Partners
In 2015, Boston start-up Yeloha began offering a way for individuals to share in the benefits of solar panels installed on someone else’s roof. Rather than developing a large solar array at a solar farm, the company planned on installing arrays at residences and small businesses and allowing others to share in the electricity produced.
February, 2017 update: The start up has closed and this message appears on their website: “Unfortunately, the resources required to sustain Yeloha and bring it to the next level were not available in this environment. We had to shut down Yeloha, but we remain confident that solar sharing will shape the future of energy. Our users and supporters can take pride as pioneers on that journey.”