Community Solar 101
Community Solar is finally available to almost anyone in New York State. For the first time ever, there really is a way to go solar for everyone, regardless of whether you own a home, have money to buy solar panels, or live in a field or forest. In the section below, you will find more information on community solar in general, but also on the two types of community solar that are currently being developed in New York State.
Community Solar - Why now?
Community solar hasn't always been in option in New York State - up until the end of 2015, residents that wanted to go solar only had the option of having solar on their house or in their yard. Renters, or those that lived in unsuitable areas due to shade, had no real solar options.
This all changed with a decision in New York State to change how net-metering worked to allow residents to take advantage of offsite solar. Suddenly, solar energy didn't necessarily need to be produced in your yard, or even in your neighborhood. As long as you were connected to the same utility and were in the same 'load zone,' you were set for solar!
Since that decision, companies have been looking at how to make community solar work and they've basically settled on two models: Purchase Models - where the resident owns the solar panels at an off-site location, and Subscription Models - where residents don't own the solar panels but they are able to subscribe to a solar farm and get a certain amount of the electricity it produces. Below we include more information on both of these types of Community Solar.
Under the Purchase Model of community, a resident will choose to buy and own solar panels on a solar farm that is located in the same load zone and uses the same utility. The resident will then receive a credit on their usual utility bill for every kilowatt-hour of solar that their panels produce off-site without having to make any changes to their current residence.
In the purchase model, residents will have to buy or finance the panels from a solar developer and will likely pay a monthly maintenance/insurance fee - however their utility bill will be much diminished!
Through Subscription Models of community solar, residents never have to own a solar panel in order to receive benefits. Instead, they subscribe to a solar farm that's in the same load zone and uses the same utility as they do. From there, the developer will allocate a certain percentage of the solar farms production to cover their energy needs and the homeowner will see this energy reflected in their utility bill.
Residents that go the subscription route will avoid the upfront costs of community solar but will have to pay a monthly bill to both the utility, for the basic line charge, as well as to the farm they subscribe from for their electricity usage (often at a discount from regular utility rates!)
For more information on the benefits and considerations on each of these types of solar, check out the fact sheets developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension below!