In this article, we’ll break down the terms and conditions of two community solar offers advertised by Nexamp and Clearway.
Let’s start with the basics
What is “community solar”?
Community solar is an exciting new program in Illinois that can help reduce your electric bill while supporting the development of new solar projects. Thanks to a 2016 law, the Future Energy Jobs Act, community solar allows ComEd and Ameren customers to now “go solar” without actually installing panels on their property. Under the program, you can subscribe to a portion of the electricity produced by a solar installation—called a community solar garden—and in return, receive credits that reduce your electric bill.
Community solar is just getting off the ground in Illinois, but we expect many projects to come online later in 2020. Before community solar developers can connect the garden to the grid, they need to secure a certain number of subscribers. Community solar companies are signing people up in advance for when their solar gardens go live later this year. If you sign up now through either of these offers, you will not be charged anything until the community solar garden you are assigned to is connected to the grid and you begin to receive credits on your electric bill.
How will signing up for the Nexamp or Clearway community solar offer affect my electric bill?
Your community solar provider will use your energy usage history to determine your subscription size. You can think of your subscription size as how many panels you are subscribing to, and it is measured in kilowatts (kW). Each month your subscription will produce solar energy, measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
Once the community solar project you are assigned to is completed, your monthly electric bill will include community solar bill credits. The total amount you are saving monthly from these credits will vary as the solar production of your subscription varies. In addition to your reduced electric bill, you will also pay a second monthly bill to the community solar company. Even though you are now receiving two bills, you will still save money, overall. Both Nexamp and Clearway will bill you for the value of the credits applied to your utility bill, but at a rate that is 20% lower than the standard utility supply cost.
What if I am with an alternative electric supplier?
We have heard that some alternate suppliers will not give you community solar credits at the default utility supply rate. This could leave you in a situation where you are being overcharged for the electricity you use, and under-credited for your community solar subscription, forfeiting your community solar savings and paying more than you need to.
Additionally, if you are signed up with an alternative electric supplier, there’s a high likelihood that they are overcharging you. To avoid being credited for your community solar subscription at less than the utility supply rate, CUB recommends canceling your alternate supplier before you sign up for community solar. Even if you aren’t on community solar, alternate supplier deals are almost always bad deals. (Read our fact sheets on electric competition, for ComEd customers and Ameren customers.)
What does CUB think about these two offers?
Community solar allows more Illinois consumers to support renewable energy, and CUB is pleased to see these offers hit the market. From reviewing the terms of Nexamp’s and Clearway’s offers, we did not see any red flags. Still, we always recommend comparing multiple offers and understanding all the terms before signing up for community solar. Always read your contract thoroughly.
This chart summarizes key points about the Clearway and Nexamp deals:
|Does the company offer savings?||Nexamp and Clearway both offer 20 percent savings off of the default utility supply rate for the solar energy produced each month. Note: This will not always reduce your supply cost by 20 percent, as some months you may use more energy than your community solar subscription generates.|
|Is there a credit check when I sign up?||No||Yes, Clearway performs a “soft credit check,” which will not impact your credit score.|
|What’s the contract term?||15 years. However you may end the contract at any time. Nexamp requires 90 days’ notice before cancellation goes into effect.||20 years. However, you may end the contract anytime. Clearway requires 90 days’ notice of cancellation.|
|Is there an “exit fee” for leaving the contract early?||No. There is no exit fee.||If you cancel after the early termination period, there is a $200 cancellation fee. This fee is waived if you provide a replacement customer, or if you cancel due to a life event, including moving out of the utility territory. Clearway is also waiving this fee if you sign up before December 31, 2020.|
|What are my billing options?||Nexamp automatically enrolls customers in automatic paperless billing, but you can switch to paper bills or non-automatic payments anytime.||Clearway accepts the following payment methods: check, money order, credit card, debit card, and automatic payments from a checking or savings account.|
When will my subscription go live? When will I start to see credits on my utility bill?
This depends on when the community solar garden you are assigned to is completed. The Community Solar Standard Disclosure Form you receive from Nexamp or Clearway includes the month they expect your subscription to go live in the “Subscription Specifications” section. Once you sign up you can also check your customer portal for updates on your project.
What happens if I move?
If you move within your current utility territory you can take your community solar subscription with you. If you move outside of the utility territory, you can either assign your subscription to someone else, or cancel with no penalty and proof of move. If you are moving you must give the company sufficient notice, 90 days for Nexamp and 60 days for Clearway. During that period the community solar provider will still bill you for the solar produced, and you will still receive bill credits if your account is still active.
Can I sign up for community solar and ComEd’s Hourly Pricing or Ameren’s Power Smart Pricing program?
Yes, you can still participate in these programs. However, the community solar company will continue to charge you for solar produced at 20% off the default supply rate. Because of this, being on both programs at once will lose you money. CUB recommends choosing real time pricing or community solar, but not enrolling in both.
What about other pricing plans through ComEd and Ameren?
You can be enrolled in community solar and Peak Time Rewards (Ameren) or Peak Time Savings (ComEd) at the same time.
How do I sign up?
Have you signed up for a community solar program? Let us know about your experience!