14 Active Community Solar Projects — And How You Can Join Them

Community solar projects are on the rise, with 25 states with at least one community solar project online. There are now 91 projects and 102 cumulative megawatts installed in community solar projects, and 1.8 gigawatts are expected to be added over the next five years. Much of this growth is in the popular community solar states of California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, but there are community solar projects under development or currently operating nationwide.

Curious about community solar and what it could mean for your energy needs? Read on to learn what exactly community solar is, who it’s for, and how you can benefit from it, as well as learn about active community solar projects and resources for more information.

What is Community Solar?

Community solar gardens, also known as community solar projects, allow members of the community to participate in solar power without installing solar panels on their rooftop. Members of the community solar project will pay to install solar panels in the array, then receive a credit on their electricity bill for the solar power generated by the project.

Community solar power projects are often referred to as solar gardens because they operate much like community gardens do. Instead of vegetables or fruit in the garden, members of the community benefit from solar panels.

Community solar arrays are often hosted in community areas, such as churches, schools libraries, and community centers. Often, community solar projects are created and maintained by local utility companies, but other groups and organizations may also offer their own projects.

How Community Solar is Different Than Rooftop Solar

With a residential rooftop solar power system, you’ll install solar panels directly on to the roof of your home. But with a community solar project, solar panels are installed offsite. Even though the panels are not on the member’s roof, they will still receive credit for the energy generated by the panels.

Many members of community solar projects find them to be a great alternative to rooftop solar. They are a low involvement way to enjoy solar power, allowing others to install and maintain panels while still enjoying the savings made available by community solar.

How Community Solar Saves Money

Often using virtual net metering, community solar projects and utilities are able to work together to give members of the projects utility bill credits for the electricity created by their share of the solar garden.

While an individual rooftop solar installation will often save home owners more money, community solar projects tend to be more efficient. Large buying groups such as community solar gardens are able to negotiate reduced module and installation costs.

It is important to note, however, that members of community solar projects are not typically able to claim many of the financial benefits available to residential solar power system owners. Most notably, community projects do not give subscribers the current 30% federal tax credit that solar home owners enjoy.

Who Should Sign Up for Community Solar

Rooftop solar projects have great benefits including tax breaks, lower energy costs, and increased home values. In most cases, it’s best to install a rooftop solar power system on your home if it’s possible. However, a rooftop solar power system isn’t possible for everyone.

Residents who are renting may not be able to install solar power on a property. Home owners may find that their roof is too old to install solar panels. Roofs may also be too shaded, or the size or orientation is not a good fit for solar. These home owners and residents may still want to benefit from solar power even though a rooftop installation is not feasible — and that’s where community solar projects come in.

Community solar projects are also a smart idea for home owners who aren’t sure they’ll remain in the same home for several years, or for those that simply can’t afford a solar panel installation yet.

What to Look for in Community Solar

Not all community solar projects are the same. There are a number of different models ranging from ownership projects to subscriptions and utility sponsored models.

Ownership community solar projects allow members to own panels or a share of the project. They will receive benefits from the power produced by their share of solar panels.

Under a subscription community solar project, members will subscribe to the project and pay a lower price for the electricity they purchase from the project. There is no ownership, but members are able to buy the power at a reduced rate.

With a utility sponsored model, customers of a utility are able to purchase renewable energy. They are typically able to purchase a set amount of electricity at a fixed rate.

Typically, members of a community solar project are able to retain their membership even if they move, though there are some exceptions. If you move out of the service area, you’re typically able to sell, donate, or gift your share of the community solar project.

Active Community Solar Projects

Searching for a community solar project you can join? These organizations support, develop, or maintain community solar power in the United States.

  1. National Community Solar Partnership: The National Community Solar Partnership, led by the Department of Energy, is working to expand solar access to new markets, particularly in low and moderate income communities with solar gardens.
  2. Coalition for Community Solar Access: The Coalition for Community Solar Access is a group of leading energy companies in the solar market working to expand access to community solar projects.
  3. Community Power Network: Community Power Network has solar co-ops in Washington, D.C., Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  4. Community Solar NY: NY-Sun’s Community Solar NY makes solar easier and more affordable through community driven initiatives including shared renewables, community solarize campaigns, and the K-Solar program.
  5. NH Solar Garden: NH Solar Garden specializes in New Hampshire community solar gardens. Currently, they have 20 full and partially full town solar gardens established.
  6. Cedar Falls Utilities Simple Solar: In Cedar Falls, Iowa, more than 1,200 customers invested in a 1.5 MW community solar project.
  7. Seattle City Light Community Solar: All Seattle City Light customers can participate in the utility’s Community Solar project for as little as $150. There are already three sold out projects and more in development and open for enrollment.
  8. Co-op Power Community Shared Solar: Co-op Power’s Community Shared Solar Program has projects in development in Massachusetts and Vermont. Two projects have seen early success, and the group is now developing more than 10 projects totaling 5 MW in the two states.
  9. University Park Solar: Maryland residents have come together in the University Park Community Solar project, developing a solar power generation site for the community. This projects includes solar panels placed on the University Park Church of the Brethren.
  10. Microgrid Solar: Microgrid Solar has many community solar projects either active, proposed, or in development nationwide.
  11. Oregon Clean Power Cooperative: Oregon’s Clean Power Cooperative makes it easy for Oregon residents to invest in community solar projects. They can be paid back will bill credits, yearly checks, or federal tax credits.
  12. Minnesota Community Solar Gardens: Minnesota residents can subscribe to community solar gardens in the state. Anyone with an electric bill can participate and receive their portion of the community solar garden’s generation as a credit.
  13. MN Community Solar: Another Minnesota solar project, MN Community Solar builds solar gardens with Minnesota modules, labor, and sunshine. There are four community solar projects currently established or in development.
  14. Clean Energy Collective: Available in Colorado, the Clean Energy Collective offers community shared solar to residential and commercial utility members. Using RemoteMeter software, customers receive a credit for clean power produced directly on their monthly bills. The Clean Energy Collective currently has 49 community solar projects in Colorado either sold out or with panels available.

To find a directory of even more community solar projects either in development or full, visit Community Solar Hub and SolarRenter.

Learn More About Community Solar

Want more? Visit these resources to learn about nationwide community solar initiatives, more details on community solar gardens, and even how you can create your own community solar project.

Photo by Flickr user laurenmanning