Community Solar: How to help save the planet and on your utility bill with no up front cost (and no rooftop panels)!

Community Solar: How to help save the planet and on your utility bill with no up front cost (and no rooftop panels)!

This article is a part of a new ongoing series written by members of the Village of Glencoe Sustainability Task Force. The Sustainability Task Force plans to utilize this forum to increase public awareness about its initiatives, including issues relating to resource conservation, recycling, ravine management, stormwater issues and solar energy.

Sound too good to be true?  With a community solar subscription, homeowners and businesses can support solar power and save on utility expenses without having to make the cash investment to install solar panels on their properties.  But not only is it possible, it is very simple to do. I know that for a fact, as I just subscribed to a solar garden under construction in Harvard, Illinois. So, what is a community solar subscription and how does it work?

In 2016 the Illinois General Assembly passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (or “FEJA”). FEJA, among other requirements, mandates that the State’s two major power suppliers, Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois, generate 25% of their power from renewable sources by 2025. Reaching this goal will allow the companies to retire aging nuclear and coal burning generating stations. FEJA also supports the creation of permanent “green economy” jobs in Illinois.

FEJA recognized that rooftop solar would not be a viable alternative for all rate-consumers due to issues such as upfront costs, shaded rooftops and lack of access to rooftop space (e.g. apartment dwellers). To provide rate-consumers equitable access to solar power, FEJA established regulations and incentives to promote community solar power generation. The first generation of FEJA-supported community solar projects is now under development.

So, this is how it works. The law takes advantage of (1) aggregated net metering and (2) renewable energy credits (RECs) to make the economics work out. Aggregated net metering allows the community solar provider to apply the value of the solar electricity in the form of a bill credit on a subscriber’s electric bill. RECs represent the environmental benefits derived from renewable sources.  The community solar provider generates RECs and sells them to the Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois. Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois “claim” that renewable power to help meet their goal of a 25% renewables mix. The companies obtain the funds to pay for the RECs through a renewable portfolio standard assessment mandated by FEJA on the utility bills of all electricity customers in the State.

It can be a little confusing, but a subscriber does not receive electricity directly from the community solar project to which she subscribes. Rather, a solar farm delivers power into Commonwealth Edison’s grid and is credited for the value of that power. The credit ultimately flows down to each subscriber’s individual electricity bill.

As a Glencoe resident, you can sign up for the CS2 Community Solar Residential Program here. This program has fair and transparent subscription terms negotiated by local governments, including Glencoe! There is no cost or obligation to put your name on the waiting list, but you will need to know your ComEd account number and your electric meter number to signup. (Your meter number can be found on your ComEd bill.) MC Squared Energy Services, the CS2 program administrator, will review your ComEd account to ensure that your account qualifies and identify your needed subscription size. MC Squared Energy Serices will inform you by email once your account has been confirmed, and again when your designated community solar farm  is ready to commence operations. At that time, you may choose to complete the enrollment process and start recieiving your net metering credits. Furthermore, there are no credit checks, signup fees, or termination fees. 

When my community solar subscription provider’s new solar garden is completed in early 2021, my power will continue to come from Commonwealth Edison, and I will get a monthly invoice from Commonwealth Edison which reflects the cost of the power used for that month less the application of the solar credit to reduce the invoiced amount. The discount only applies to the power supplied; there is still a separate transmission fee. The owner of the solar garden will invoice me for 80% of what the credit covered on that month’s utility bill. For example, if my monthly bill would have been $100 for the power used but the credit reduced that to zero dollars, I will receive an invoice from the owner for $80. The owner makes enough money to offset the cost of building the solar farm plus a profit, Commonwealth Edison claims renewable power to help meet its legal obligation to the State and I save 20% on my electric bill. 

Find more information and sign up for the Northshore CS2 Community Solar Residential Program here.

Submitted by Glencoe Sustainability Task Force Members Barney Gallagher and Larry Reilly