New solar garden projects are popping up all the time, all across the U.S. This means that now more than ever it’s a good idea to shop around if you’re interested in subscribing to community solar. Where once you may have had just one option, there might now be dozens available to you.
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Here are some of the best community solar programs in the U.S., based on likely savings on your electric bill, subscriber satisfaction, and the overall sustainability of the project. As always, before signing a contract, read the fine print and ask a lot of questions!
Highlights: Program designed to help low to moderate income families reap the benefits of solar power by reducing energy burden from electricity bills.
If you live in Washington, D.C., you’ll want to check out the Solar for All Program. This community solar project offers free community solar subscriptions to households below 80% of Area Median Income. Your subscription is set up to offset approximately 50% of your electricity bill, with Solar for All subscriptions estimated to reduce the energy burden for the lowest income households from 13.5% to 8.8%.
Solar for All aims to help 100,000 low- to moderate-income families in D.C. reap the benefits of solar. The project is a partnership between the DC Department of Energy and Environment and local organizations to install solar on single-family homes and to develop community solar projects that are accessible to renters and residents in multi-family buildings.
Highlights: B corporation that aims to make it easy to sign up for community solar, saving most with a subscription 10-30% on their electric bills each month.
Neighborhood Sun is an American clean energy start-up and B Corporation that makes it easy to sign up for community solar. Its online portal is simple to navigate, so you can quickly find a project in your service area. Neighborhood Sun manages your subscription, offering a variety of contract lengths and other options.
Overall, a subscription through Neighborhood Sun could save you 10-30% on your electric bill each month, and you don’t even have to switch utilities in most cases! The company claims to have saved its customers more than $400,000 on their electric bills in 2021 and to have prevented the emission of almost 200 million lbs. of CO2.
So far, Neighborhood Sun has projects up and running in D.C., Maryland, and New Jersey, with new projects coming online fairly regularly. So far, these community solar projects are run through utilities including Baltimore Gas & Electric, Central Hudson, Delmarva Power, Potomac Edison, Pepco Maryland, Pepco DC, PSE&G, and JCPL.
The company is also a great option for non-profit, faith, and neighborhood groups looking to set up a turn-key community solar project. Neighborhood Sun can help set up your site, sign up subscribers, help with financing and customer management.
Neighborhood Sun has many happy customers and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. It also boasts the highest B Corp score of any community solar company in the U.S.
Highlights: American startup offering customers the opportunity to connect their existing utility accounts to a solar project for the sake of earning clean energy credits.
Another U.S. startup, Common Energy enables customers interested in community solar to connect their existing utility account with a solar project to earn clean energy credits. So far, Common Energy has over 3,000 subscribers, including homeowners, renters, and businesses, and manages more than 80 community solar projects across the country. So far, these are concentrated in Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon.
At the time of writing, Common Energy listed 16 projects open to new subscribers. Every month, subscribers receive a Statement of Savings showing their original bill, their savings with Common Energy, and their positive environmental impact. Estimated savings are a little more modest than with some other community solar, at 5-15% of your current electric bill.
Common Energy offers a no-fee cancellation policy if you move and your new address is outside an area it serves, as long as you provide it 90 days’ notice. Note that it can take 4-8 weeks to get connected to a clean energy project, depending on your utility.
Highlights: Business, municipality, school, and non-profit community solar option available to those in Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Minnesota – offered by a B Corporation.
In Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Minnesota, Pivot Energy offers community solar for businesses, municipalities, schools, and non-profits. This B Corp works with Black Hills Energy and Xcel Energy utility customers to subscribe to existing projects and can also help with the development and construction of new solar arrays.
Pivot also offers community solar subscriptions to residents of Colorado, as long as they’re in an Xcel Energy service area. There are no upfront costs and the company offers a handy calculator on its site to show potential savings (financially and in terms of carbon emissions). When you sign up to a community solar project through Pivot Energy you’ll receive two monthly bills, one from your utility and one from Pivot. The solar energy generated by your subscription will be credited to your utility bill to offset your usual costs.
As a Pivot Energy customer you also get access to an online portal where you can see your subscription contract, view savings, and pay invoices. This portal also offers information on your particular community solar garden, including location, production, savings, and more.
Highlights: Vermont-based B Corp offering community solar subscriptions, home solar, battery storage, and more with a goal of helping to widen solar access and transition economies away from fossil fuels.
SunCommon is another Vermont-based B Corp (since 2012) that offers community solar subscriptions as well as home solar, battery storage, and commercial solar projects. The New York side of the company has been around since 2002, making this one of the longest-standing solar companies in both states. During that tenure, SunCommon has helped push forward progressive solar legislation, helping even more people access solar power and helping to transition the NY and VT economies away from fossil fuels.
The company was one of the first to offer community solar to Vermonters, with programs dating back to 2014. It has built more than 30 Community Solar Arrays (CSAs) and the first array, built-in Waltham, VT, still powers 30 Vermont homes. These days, SunCommon offers both ownership (for maximum savings and tax credits) and pay-as-you-go subscription community solar options that could save up to 10% on utility bills.
On the anniversary of your subscription date, SunCommon tallies solar production from your share in the array. If the array under-produced that year, and you did not receive the full amount of kWh/solar credits due per your membership size, SunCommon will make up the difference to you. If the array over-produced, you make up the difference to the company.
SunCommon makes it easy to transfer a share in a CSA to a friend, colleague, neighbor, or someone else if you need to. This saves you the exit fee associated with leaving the program. You can also take your subscription with you when you move within its service area. There’s a handy online CSA portal where you can see the power produced in the last week. You can also refer friends and earn up to $500 for each successful referral.
SunCommon Eco-Friendly Initiatives
It consistently ranks for Best of the World: Environment in the annual B Corp awards and has initiatives such as volunteering in the community to plant trees with local wildlife conservation non-profits. SunCommon incorporates pollinator-friendly plantings around the perimeter of its solar arrays. Its Orange County Citizens Foundation array even offers a wildflower walking path that is open to the public.
SunCommon boasts net-positive buildings in Waterbury, VT, and Rhinebeck, NY, and won the NESEA Award in 2010 for the First Zero Net Energy Commercial Building in NY. The Waterbury HQ is the largest net-positive building in Vermont, with the surplus energy produced at the offices being shared through the Community Solar program.
The SunCommon team even gets around in a green fleet of EVs, with charging stations powered by solar and wind at every company location. It is consistently voted as a great place to work, has an executive team made up of around 40% women, offers generous benefits to employees, and has even divested its employee retirement funds from fossil fuel investments. The company also built and sent a solar-powered relief trailer to Puerto Rico (with help from AMICUS) to generate off-grid solar power for communities impacted by the hurricane.
Highlights: New York based solar project developer with an impressive portfolio of community solar arrays available in New York, and soon in 6 other states as well.
OYA Solar is a solar project developer with projects in the U.S. and Canada. It is based in New York and has a huge number of projects in its pipeline (1000 MW at least). It also boasts an impressive portfolio of community solar arrays already up and running, meaning you can sign up for community solar with Oya today, if you live in NY. Thanks to that project pipeline, though, residents of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Virginia will also soon be able to access Oya’s community solar programs.
The company works with local stakeholders to foster economic development within the community where a project is located. It is also mindful of causing minimal disturbance to farmland during the construction and operation of solar arrays on such land.
To get started with Oya you just need to send the company your utility bills for the last 12 months. The company assesses your energy use and reserves your bill credits up to 100% of that amount. Once you’re signed up to a project, you’ll save a guaranteed 10% on your energy bill for the length of your subscription. There are no initial or ongoing fees payable to Oya or the utility for being a community solar subscriber and the company carries any credits forward to the next month if they’re unused.
Final thoughts on the best community solar programs
There are more than 2,000 community solar programs already up and running in the U.S. alone, so the list above barely scratches the surface. These programs are just some of the best for overall sustainability, with a solid business model, track record, and clean, green, ethos.
If these companies don’t offer a community solar project near you, check out rooflesssolar.com. Here, you can enter your ZIP code to find a local project operating in your area. You can also ask your utility company directly to see if it has partnered with any community solar projects or has any plans to do so. This has the added benefit of letting the utility know the demand is there for community solar.
Finally, if you’re really stuck for community solar and want to get the ball rolling in your community, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory publishes a super helpful guide that walks you through setting up and managing a community solar farm.
Don’t want to go it alone? Consider asking around local environmental activism and conservation groups to see if you can create a team of co-planners. Community solar can be a great way to make new friends while helping tackle climate change and saving money on your electricity bills!