Fact Sheet

Community Solar

Region

National

NCEL Point of Contact

Clara Summers
Climate and Energy Manager

Contact

Overview

Solar energy has gained momentum across the United States, but it is still inaccessible to a large portion of the population. Community solar allows those who face significant barriers to owning rooftop solar, such as low-income communities, renters, and businesses, to reap the benefits of solar power. When subscribed to a community solar project, the local shared solar farm feeds energy into the local electricity grid. Community solar subscribers continue to receive power from their utility provider along with a credit on their utility bill that is based on the energy generated from the solar farm. Over 40 states have at least one community solar project. Community solar makes way for affordable, locally generated, clean energy without panel installation or costly fees.

Key Points

Key Point 1

Community solar offers the benefits of solar power to those who do not have access to solar panels on their homes. (Solar United Neighbors)

Key Point 2

Depending on the state, community solar programs vary significantly in size, scope and goals, allowing state legislators to tailor programs to their communities. (Green Tech Media)

Key Point 3

Virtual Net Metering (VNM) makes a way for those who are not eligible for rooftop solar to receive the benefits of solar energy. VNM and similar policies permit households to receive the net metering credits that are generated with a renewable energy project in a neighboring location. (EnergySave)

Key Point 4

States can drive better access to solar by allocating a certain percentage of all community solar projects to low- and moderate-income households. (Clean Energy States Alliance)

Legislation/ State Options 

  • Maryland’s S.B. 398/H.B.1087 (2015) established a community solar program following a successful pilot program. This program fosters competition by not imposing restrictions on project ownership.          
  • New Mexico’s S.B 84  (2021) enacted a community solar program and the Native Community Solar Project, which is a community solar site that is owned or operated by an Indian nation, tribe or pueblo in partnership with a third-party entity. 
  • Minnesota’s H.F.3232 (2017) established the Minnesota Solar Energy Incentive plan. A key aspect of the Minnesota program is that it does not place a cap on community solar projects, allowing them to keep up with demand.
  • New Jersey’s A3723/S2314 (2018) dedicated 40% of the program towards projects with majority income-qualified customers. 
  • Oregon’s community solar program addresses many of the obstacles that low-income households face, such as upfront payments, infrastructure barriers and weather.

Resources

NCEL Resources

Online Resources

Community Solar - Solar United Neighbors

Solar United Neighbors’ community solar overview with resources for policymakers.

Go to resource
National Community Solar Programs Tracker - ILSR

Institute for Local Self-Reliance's National Community Solar Programs Tracker.

Go to resource
A Guide to Community Solar - U.S. DOE

A guide developed by the U.S. Department of Energy regarding community solar development for utilities, private entities, and non-profits.

Go to resource
National Community Solar Partnership - U.S. DOE

A coalition of community solar stakeholders working to expand access to affordable community solar to every American household by 2025.

Go to resource

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