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Clip arts of buildings and sunFor a year, the Sustainability Committee has encouraged Grovers to switch from Pepco’s standard-offer electricity (which is only 6% renewably generated) to a renewable electricity supplier via Maryland Electric Choice. You can make this change to help fight climate change without much trouble, but, if it seems a challenge, Sustainability Committee members can help.

In addition, there is a different route you can take to secure solar-generated electricity for your household: become a community solar subscriber.  Community solar in Maryland, created by state legislation in 2015 and regulated by the Public Service Commission, was launched in 2017. It allows Marylanders:

  • who rent,
  • who live in condos or co-ops, or
  • whose roofs are not suitable for photovoltaic panels,

to benefit from locally generated solar energy — and save money as well.

When you subscribe to community solar, you are assigned a portion of the electricity generated by a particular solar field in the area served by your electric company, in our case Pepco. Pepco is required to buy that electricity from you and will credit your next month’s bill for the amount they paid. Then you pay the community-solar subscription management company for the electricity you actually used, but at a rate discounted from Pepco’s normal kWh rate by 5% to 10%, depending upon your contract. If you qualify as low- or moderate-income, your discount can be as high as 25%.

You may not use as much electricity as you are credited in the summer when there are more hours of sunlight. The credit will roll over to the next month. In the winter, you may use more electricity than you generated, and then you will pay the balance on your Pepco bill to Pepco (or to your chosen third-party supplier from the Maryland Electric Choice list).

Currently, three community solar companies offer subscriptions in our area:  Neighborhood SunCleanChoice Energy, and Arcadia Power.

The Fassett/Bolotin household recently signed up with Neighborhood Sun and report:

If you look into community solar, read your contract carefully, but these are the advantages and concerns we see with our own contract.

Advantages:

  • There are no costs to subscribe.
  • Even if we don’t monitor our bills closely to watch our credits go up and down monthly, we can be assured we’ll always pay at least 5% less than what Pepco would have charged for our electricity usage.
  • Our contract is for 20 years, but it can be ended, with 90 days’ notice, with no penalty or cost. If we move within the Pepco service area, our contract can move with us.
  • We now know that about 90% of our electricity usage comes from locally generated solar energy. Many of the third-party suppliers (some of whom are fossil-fuel companies) are purchasing RECs (renewable energy certificates) on your behalf rather than generating renewable energy themselves. That’s OK, although RECs can represent renewable energy that some people may find less green than solar or wind.
  • Neighborhood Sun is a local business headquartered in Silver Spring. It is a Certified B Corporation, indicating it meets high social and environmental standards and is accountable to its employees and customers as well as to shareholders.
  • If the community solar company were to go belly up or our solar field were destroyed by a catastrophe, there won’t be a power disruption. Pepco will still deliver electricity to us, charging its regular rates.
  • We could subscribe to community solar even though we were already signed up for an alternative renewable energy supplier through Maryland Electric Choice. The solar farm will provide about 90% of our electricity, with the remainder coming from our originally chosen supplier, whose charges are paid when we pay our Pepco bills.

Concerns:

  • Solar fields take up land. Some people prefer that land to be used for agriculture or as a natural reserve. Agricultural researchers are exploring growing crops or pollinator-friendly plants beneath solar arrays.
  • Billing is a little complicated, and we’ll be billed separately by Pepco (which will always charge for its transmission fees) and by Neighborhood Sun.
  • Neighborhood Sun requires automated payment from our bank account or credit or debit card. Perhaps this is an advantage, but we’re old-fashioned.
  • People wishing to subscribe may face a waiting period until spaces open in existing projects (because subscribers relocate or quit) or until new projects come online. Having people waiting to subscribe, however, is no doubt attractive for solar field developers deciding where to build.
  • Because we want our electricity sources to be 100% renewable energy, we still had to choose a third-party supplier for the estimated 10% difference between the electricity our household uses and the amount our contract with Neighborhood Sun covers. [NB: This does not necessarily apply to other community solar companies. For example, Sung Chang reports that Arcadia Power, with which he has contracted since late 2018, will purchase RECs on your behalf for the 10% or so of your electricity use that isn’t provided from the community solar farm.]

Recently, Bruce Daggy signed up with CleanChoice Energy. A company called Utility Advisor, which does not charge the consumer for its services, helped him find an available community solar subscription at 10% less than Pepco’s rate.

For more information about community solar, see Solar United Neighbors, a national advocacy organization.

Are you intrigued? Do you have questions? Ned Helme, Mimi Bolotin, Sung Chang, or Bruce Daggy can try to answer them for you, or email us at [email protected]. Are you already a community solar subscriber? Please let us know.

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