In the past, 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 MD Energy Choice. While some of your neighbors have signed up for 100% renewable electricity through the MD Electric Choice program, others have found it (much) easier to get renewable electricity through a community solar subscription. Community solar in Maryland, created by state legislation in 2015 and regulated by the Public Service Commission, was launched in 2017. Dozens of your neighbors have already signed up.
Community solar makes affordable solar available to many families who could not have it before. Here’s how it works: When you enroll you are assigned a share of the output of a regional solar farm. The solar supplier aims to offset your electric usage over the course of a year. Since the solar farm will produce more power in the summer and less in the shorter days of winter, the power provided each month by the solar farm will rarely if ever be an exact match for your actual usage.
- If your assigned share of the output of the solar farm ends up generating more electricity than you use in a summer month, you will earn credits that carry forward.
- If your share of the farm’s output covers less than your full electric use, then Pepco (or your MD Energy Choice provider) makes up the difference.
This is why one community solar provider, Clean Choice Energy, says, “You could save up to 10% on your electric bill.” Ten percent savings means that what you used and what the solar farm generated were a perfect match.
Energy delivery is still handled by Pepco, so you will see two electric bills per month. Pepco is required to buy the solar 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 rate by 5% to 10%, depending upon your contract. If you qualify as low- or moderate-income, your discount can be as high as 30%.
- There are no costs to subscribe.
- You don’t have to be the homeowner, or have a roof with the right orientation, pitch, and lack of shading; you don’t need to purchase or maintain equipment, but you are getting the use of a specific regional solar farm.
- Even if you don’t monitor your bills closely to watch credits go up and down monthly, your contract guarantees a cost saving compared with Pepco.
- Contracts are typically for 20 years but can be ended with little or no penalty (a notice period may be required unless you are leaving the service area). If you move within Pepco’s service area, your contract can move with you.
- If the community solar company were to go belly up or its solar field were destroyed by a catastrophe, there won’t be a power disruption. Pepco would still deliver electricity, charging its regular rates.
- You can subscribe to community solar even if you are already signed up for an alternative renewable energy supplier through MD Energy Choice
- 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: Agrivoltaics.
- Billing is a little complicated, with two bills per month as described above.
- Some community solar companies require automated payment from your bank account or credit or debit card. This can be a pro or con, depending on your preference.
- People wishing to subscribe may face a waiting period until spaces open up in existing projects or new projects come online. Having people waiting to subscribe, however, is no doubt an incentive for solar developers.
- Community solar may not cover 100% of your electric use, so if the gap is filled by Pepco, you are still using some of its dirty energy. Some community solar programs target meeting 100% of your use, some pick a lower figure like 90%. You could use MD Energy Choice to fill the small gap.
Several of your neighbors have used the assistance of a company called Utility Advisor, which does not charge the consumer for its services to help them find an available community solar subscription. Utility Advisor is paid by the community solar companies for enrolling new customers. Utility Advisor monitors which solar farms currently have available enrollment slots, and the details of their terms, so they can help you consider all available programs and pick the one that’s right for you. Utility Advisor makes a $25 donation to the Woman’s Club for every new Grove resident who enrolls in community solar through them. You can review the details of the various solar energy suppliers’ current offerings and learn more about community solar at Utility Advisor’s Washington Grove web page.
For more information about community solar, see Solar United Neighbors, a national advocacy organization. Are you intrigued? Do you have questions? Utility Advisor or your neighbors 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.