1) What is a Solar Garden?
It is a field of several thousand solar panels. This is sometimes called a solar farm, or solar coop. In Massachusetts, a Community Solar Garden typically has enough solar panels to cover the electric power from 50 to 200 homes.
2) How does Community Solar work?
Community Solar is a state-regulated program. Community Solar is a way to offset your electric bill with credits produced on a local Solar Garden. You can get exactly the right amount of credits for the amount of electricity your house uses. Nothing is installed at your house so even condos and homes with older roofs or shading can participate. There is no up-front cost to participate and your ongoing energy payments are less than what you pay today for the energy produced by the utility company.
3) Why do this?
- You are ‘going green’ by supporting local solar energy.
- You can cover 100% of your electrical needs with energy credits from the solar garden.
- You can save thousands of dollars over the life of the community solar program.
- You are helping create and foster a local solar market here in Massachusetts.
- It’s flexible as the program can move with you (see question #7) / can be adjusted (see question #5).
4) Where does the electricity go?
The electricity produced by a solar garden can be delivered anywhere. It might end up powering a local business or a home in another town. No electrical lines send the electricity directly to your home. Instead Community Solar relies on ‘Virtual Net Metering’ which allows you to receive a credit on your electric bill even if the electricity is used somewhere else. By enrolling in Community Solar you are supporting the construction of new local solar gardens which wouldn’t happen without your participation.
5) Can I cover a 100% of my electricity use? What happens if my electric use changes?
Participants are given the amount of credits estimated to cover almost all of their electrical use. If after a year in the program you are receiving too many or too few credits, you can adjust the amount of credits you get. If you start using more or less electricity over time, you can adjust – unlike if you have panels on your roof.
6) How do I sign up?
You sign up by going to our Community Solar Page, and selecting a signup link on the bottom of the page. Relay Power has agreed to give a donation to participating nonprofits for signed contracts. Select where you would like your donation to go too. After entering your contact information, someone from Relay Power will call and setup an in person appointment, to go over the agreement to purchase energy credits from the solar garden.
7) What if I move?
If you move within your local region, you can stay in the program. If you move out of our ISO Load Zone or you no longer want to participate, you can give your spot to someone else or have Relay Power find someone for you. This flexibility is another reason community solar might be a better option for you than putting solar panels on your roof.
8) What will my electric bills look like?
You will still receive a bill from the electric utility and your community solar credits will be applied as a negative number (credit) on this bill. On average, the total for this bill should be close to $0.
You will also receive a bill from the solar garden operator to cover the cost of generating the energy credits. Right now, this bill will be 10% less than what you are paying today. Note that this may change to be less than a 10% savings if you sign up later but if you sign up now at 10% you are grandfather in at 10% for the length of the program.
9) When does the solar garden start producing energy?
The current solar garden is estimated to go live around the end of 2016.
10) Is this only for homeowners?
This can apply to apartments and condo associations under certain conditions. It can also apply to a small number of businesses. This depends on the solar garden presently being offered and can change as different gardens are offered.
11) Why not put solar panels on your roof?
If you can, then you should consider it, you will probably save more money. See our Rooftop Solar Page for possible installers. But the majority of houses in Sharon (~80%) are not suitable for solar panels today. Community Solar is the best (only way) they can go solar. If you look at solar today there are three main options for a home owner.
- Join a solar garden
easy to do, no upfront cost, can be done for any house, some savings, flexible program
- Lease solar panels on your roof
harder to do, no upfront cost, roof must support panels (age, direction, weight, shading), aesthetics concerns, more savings than solar garden, less flexible lease (must sell with house)
- Own your own solar panels on your roof
hard to do, large upfront cost, roof must support panels (age, direction, weight, shading), aesthetics concerns, best savings, less flexible (must sell with house)
12) What if solar garden builder goes under, solar garden is destroyed (hurricane), or the garden is never built?
In general you will go back to paying your electric utility bill as you did before this option ever came along. So this would make you no worse off than you are today.
13) Can I add community solar if I already have rooftop solar?
Yes. A home owner can have solar panels on their roof and just offset the rest of their power needs from the solar garden. Must meet the minimum required amount to offset though.
14) What are the requirements for signing up?
- Good credit
- Must have an average monthly electric bill of at least $50.
- Living in a region with a community solar garden (Sharon residents must be in the South East ISO Load Zone). 98% of house in Sharon are in the correct region. Check your electric bill. The yellow arrow in the sample electric utility picture below points to “SE” for ISO South East region.