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Considering community solar? Follow these shopping tips

Community solar is an exciting program for Illinois consumers who are interested in enjoying the financial benefits of going solar without having to install panels. But you have to do your homework to make the best choice for your home. 

Compared with volatile fossil fuel prices, solar energy can be a way to lower your electricity costs. But not everyone has the ability to install solar panels on their homes. Community Solar gives the benefits of solar panels without installing panels. 

The program, first launched in 2016 thanks to the Future Energy Jobs Act,  lets you subscribe to a portion of the electricity produced by a solar installation—called a community solar garden—and in return you receive credits on your electric bill.

Signing up for community solar can lower your overall electric costs, while also supporting renewable energy development in Illinois. The typical community solar plan is structured to save subscribers about 10-20% off the supply section of their electricity bills. Thanks to Illinois Solar For All, income-eligible consumers can receive the benefit of solar electricity without financial risk. Illinois Solar for All participants are guaranteed to see savings on their bills, thanks to their community solar deal.

Community solar can also improve the power grid’s reliability by reducing peak loads while lessening the need for expensive peaker power plants, lowering market prices for all. 

Here are a few important things to consider when shopping for a community solar deal: 

  • How long is the term of the contract?
  • Does the company charge a fee if you exit the contract early?
  • How do you pay for your subscription? If it is per kilowatt-hour, what is the rate? Can that rate increase over the time of the contract?
  • Do they require a credit check?
  • How will the company bill you? Electronically? A paper bill? How do they accept your payments? Can you choose? Do they require automatic payments?
  • How much will you save? So far, people are expected to save anywhere from 10 to 20 percent on the electricity produced through their community solar subscription.Flowchart detailing if registering for Community Solar would save you money.
  • A Note about Community Solar and Municipal Aggregation: While community solar is a good deal for most consumers, you should always do the  math. Community solar may not always be the best deal if you are on a municipal aggregation offer (also called a community power deal) that has a lower price than the utility rate. Municipal aggregation deals involve community leaders negotiating an electricity price with an alternative supplier.  (Check out the chart we made for municipal aggregation customers who are considering community solar. Remember,  ComEd and Ameren are different utilities, so when you’re using the chart, just look at your utility’s price.) 
  • Before you sign anything, make sure to look at all the offers and consider the information carefully. CUB has had an issue with some companies being unresponsive to requests for updated information. Read our current Community Solar Offer Comparison Chart

If you do decide to go solar, there’s a good chance you will be added to a long waitlist, no matter what company’s offer you choose. So you could wait by up to a year before you can reap the benefits. 

Find more information on CUB’s Solar in the Community website  and our Community Solar Fact Sheet.