Community Solar

Why do it? A community solar subscription saves you money on your electric bill and helps to support development of solar power in Massachusetts. This is a great option for renters, condo owners or those who can’t put solar on their roof.

How does it work? You sign up to purchase some of the net-metering credits allocated by the utility to a solar project. You receive a credit on your electricity bill that is greater than the fee you pay to the community solar project, usually representing a 5-10% discount.

Where are the projects? The project can be anywhere in your utility’s service territory.

Steps to Take

Step 1: Find your electric bill - you will need your account number.

Step 2: Research options on EnergySage . EnergySage provides a public marketplace / broker for multiple community solar developers. This means you are likely to find a community solar project that will work for you - i.e., one that is taking new subscribers using the amount of electricity you require. Plus, they have an easy-to-use marketplace and customer support through their Energy Advisors. Sustainable Milton and MassEnergize do not receive money from EnergySage.

Step 3: On EnergySage , compare projects, and sign up.

  1. Enter your zip code to find local community solar projects available to you. The projects available change over time, as projects become fully subscribed and new ones become ready to sign up subscribers. If you don’t see a project available, check back in a few days or weeks.
  2. Compare the available options & choose a project.
  3. Download, review, and save the proposed purchase agreement. If you have questions, reach out to the contact names listed.
  4. If you are satisfied with the proposal, you can provide basic contact information and click “subscribe”.
  5. Your selected community solar company will reach out to you to finalize your subscription
  6. You will start to see bill credits appear on your electric bill once the project commences operations.
  7. You will receive your first community solar bill.

Deep Dive

Can you enroll in Community Solar and also buy renewable electricity through Milton’s CEA program ? YES. It’s a bit confusing, but with the CEA program and community solar you are purchasing different things in different markets. Milton’s CEA program allows you to purchase your electricity supply - the actual kWh you consume each month. With community solar, you are purchasing solar net metering credits representing the value of the solar power purchased by the utility from the solar project.

There are two reasons for someone already buying renewable electricity also to consider enrolling in community solar. First, you generally will save money overall with discounted net metering credits from the community solar project. Second, your participation in community solar helps more renewable energy projects to get built on the New England grid. To be certain, advise the community solar company how you currently purchase electricity, and ask them to show how you will still save money on net from being allocated solar credits on your utility electricity bill.

For more information or comparison: You may want to check out other community solar developers and aggregators. Here are a few that are very active in Massachusetts:

What should I look for? How will I know I’m getting a good deal? Fortunately for consumers in Massachusetts, the community solar terms are becoming simpler over time. The EnergySage site offers tips for being an informed buyer. Here are some questions you can ask when deciding between community solar offers:

  1. How long is the term of your contract with the community solar provider?
  2. How many credits each month do they suggest you buy? Ask how they calculate that amount (good to make sure you only buy credits that you can use).
  3. Does the company charge a fee if you exit the contract early?
  4. Will they provide a written contract? (Be sure to read it.)
  5. How do you pay for your community solar subscription?Do they require a credit check?
  6. How will the company bill you? Electronically? A paper bill? How do they accept your payments? Can you choose? Do they offer automatic deductions from your bank account?

Here’s more detail on how it all works

1. You subscribe to a community solar project.

The community solar company develops a solar project. The project will be within your utility’s service territory but not necessarily within your town. The developer elects to give all of the electricity generated to the utility. In exchange, the utility creates solar “net metering” credits in dollars to the community solar company equal to the value of the solar power. The community solar company then finds customers (like you) in supporting the project.

You sign a contract and agree to purchase a portion of the net metering solar bill credits generated by the local solar project. In general, it’s good to limit the dollar amount of the credits you commit to buy annually to less than the annual aggregate amount of your utility bills (otherwise, you might be buying more credits than you can use during the year). Your purchase agreement, combined with agreements by other subscribers enable the community solar company to finance and build the solar project. Note - with a community solar project here in Massachusetts, you are not buying electricity. The solar electricity itself flows into the utility grid as part of the overall mix. Instead, you are agreeing to purchase some of the net metering credits created by the utility representing the value of that solar power.

  1. Typical terms are 10% savings off the value of your solar bill credits (not your entire electric bill). The number of solar credits you agree to purchase will determine the amount of your savings as a percentage of your entire electric bill.
  2. You are assigned a number of “community solar shares” that will cover a portion of your electricity use. It may take some time (possibly months) between the time of your purchase commitment before the project goes into operation. Behind the scenes, the developer is finding the remaining buyers, securing permits and financing to build the solar project, building the project, and getting the utility’s permission to operate the project.
  3. Once in operation, the community solar project produces electricity for the grid each month. Your utility buys that electricity and creates the related net metering credits. The community solar company tells the utility to allocate the net metering credits to you and the other customers. The credits will show up on your monthly utility bill. The amount of the credits you receive each month will vary based on the seasons, with more credits arriving during the sunny months and fewer over the less sunny months. Your community solar company tracks the solar bill credits that you should receive on your utility bill each billing period.

2.You receive a monthly bill from the community solar company. You pay the community solar company for the solar net metering credits from the solar project that show up on your utility bill. Typically, the community solar companies will offer a 10% discount on the value of the credits, meaning you would save 10% on the value of those credits received on your bill! Put another way, you would pay just 90 cents for every dollar of credit showing up on your utility bill.

3.Your monthly utility electric bill shows a credit for the net metering credits generated by your subscription to the community solar project.

4. Subscriptions can be cancelled or adjusted. Most community solar companies currently offer a month-to-month commitment with a locked-in savings percentage rate on the value of the credits. Most offer the ability to cancel or adjust the purchase commitment with one or two months’ notice. Utility processing can extend the sign up and cancellation times.

FAQs

What are the benefits of community solar? Community solar is a way to support local clean energy development and jobs right here in Massachusetts. The developers need our subscriptions in order to get financing to build their projects. It can also lower electric bills for subscribers. Subscribing is a great way to save money and support local solar development!

Am I purchasing solar energy directly? No, but you are supporting the development of solar projecs. With a community solar project, while you will not be purchasing “green electricity” for your own use, purchasing net metering credits from a community solar project is still an effective and easy way to support local clean energy development and jobs right here in Massachusetts. The developers need our subscriptions in order to get financing to build their projects and they want satisfied customers.

Do subscribers directly receive power from the community solar project? No. Unlike a home with its own solar panels, there’s no way to send the power generated by community solar exclusively to a subscriber’s home. Like all electricity, power produced by a community solar project is sent to the utility’s grid and distributed by the utility to users the moment it’s created.

Why do we recommend EnergySage? They act as a neutral public marketplace / broker for multiple community solar developers. Their Community Energy Marketplace makes it easy to find and compare multiple subscription options in your area. Best of all, EnergySage has expert, unbiased Energy Advisors available via phone and email to support you. Sustainable Milton does not receive money from EnergySage.

What if I move? If you move to a new home within your utility’s territory, you can continue your subscription. If you move outside the territory, you must cancel your subscription.

I signed up for community solar two months ago. Why do I not see solar credits on my utility bill yet? Many community solar companies sign up subscribers prior to the solar project being finished. You will only start to receive bill credits and a community solar bill once the project is live. This means that after you sign up, there may be a period of months in which it seems like nothing is different.

Why do my community solar and electric utility bills not match each month? Solar electricity production and your home’s electricity consumption are two independent processes; both vary by the month and season. Solar electricity production is driven by the amount of sunlight and is highest during the summer, medium during the spring and fall, and low in the winter. For an average home, electricity use is highest during the summer, medium during the winter, and lowest in the spring and fall.

Utility accounting practices generally mean credits generated in one billing period typically arrive one, or sometimes two, billing periods later on a homeowners bill. Thus, your total electric utility bill, the solar bill credits that appear on your electric utility bill, and your community solar bill with the charges for those solar credits will vary by month and not in a coordinated manner. Community solar companies typically will bill you only for solar credits after you’ve received them on your bill, and/or provide a periodic reconciliation.

I have an electricity supplier. How would that work with community solar? You will not be buying electricity from the community solar company; you will only “buy” solar credits (in the form of dollar credits on your utility bill). Your utility bill lists the name of the company generating your electricity; this supplier will continue to be your utility, unless you make a separate decision to purchase your electricity from an alternate electricity supplier. If you want to consider changing your electricity supplier, the state has developed the Energy Switch website to help you identify companies offering supply to your community.

I heard that Milton is planning to offer its own contracts for electricity prices for its residents (known as community choice aggregation). I want to participate! Can I still sign up for community solar? Yes, you are eligible to sign up for community solar even if your electricity is provided through community choice aggregation. There is no change in the process for you to sign up for community solar. See the next question for the advantages of both.

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