Community Solar in Illinois

What is community solar?

Are you interested in solar power, but prevented from installing solar panels because you can’t afford it, don’t have enough space or sunlight on your property, or live in an apartment?

Illinois’ new community solar program allows electricity customers to enjoy the benefits of solar energy without installing panels on their own homes.

Through community solar you can purchase a portion of the electricity produced by a solar installation—called a community solar garden—and in return receive credits on your electric bill.

Why is this possible now?

The Future Energy Jobs Act, historic state legislation passed in December 2016, calls for 400 megawatts (MW) of community solar projects to be developed by 2030. That’s enough to power up to 150,000 households.

How does community solar work?

 

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Under Illinois’ community solar program, subscribers enter into an agreement that helps fund a solar installation in their community­—or somewhere in their utility’s service territory—in exchange for a credit on their bills. The owner of the community solar garden typically pays the upfront costs to build, maintain and connect the garden to the utility’s power grid. Subscribers pay the owner for a portion of the electricity produced, typically through an upfront fee, a monthly fee, or a per kilowatt-hour rate. At the end of each billing period, the utility grants each subscriber a credit in proportion to his or her share of the garden’s electricity production.

Here’s an example of how it could work: Let’s say your home used 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in a month, and your portion of the solar garden you subscribe to produced 200 kWh in that same month. You would receive a credit on your bill amounting to your supply rate multiplied by 200 kWh, meaning that month you would only need to pay for the remaining 800 kWh.

Note: Community solar projects have a maximum size of 2 Megawatts (MW) of electricity output—roughly 10,000 standard (2 x 1 meter) panels. Also, the utility is required to buy the energy output that hasn’t been subscribed out in a solar garden.

How do subscribers pay?

Depending on the kind of community solar plan you sign up for, you could pay one upfront fee, a monthly fee, or a combination of the two. Some examples:

  • Lease: The subscriber agrees to make a fixed monthly payment to the operator for a certain period of time in return for a bill credit equal to a certain amount of solar power produced by the community solar garden. Example: “Illinois School” contracts to pay “Solar Owner/Operator” $100 per month for 10 years in return for a bill credit of 5 percent of the monthly output of the solar garden.
  • Pre-paid Lease: Similar to a lease, with the subscriber making an upfront payment to reduce the monthly fee.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA): The subscriber pays the operator a per kilowatt-hour price for a certain period, in return for a bill credit equal to a certain percent of solar power produced. Example: “Illinois School” pays “Solar Owner/Operator” 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for 10 years, in return for a bill credit of 5 percent of the monthly output of the solar garden.
  • Purchase: A subscriber pays a lump sum to own a number of panels, and gets a bill credit equal to the output of those panels. Example: “Illinois School” pays “Solar Owner/Operator” $5,000 for ownership of six solar panels in the garden. “Illinois School” gets a bill credit for the six panels’ output.

Note: For all of these contracts, you will receive a bill that is separate from your typical electric bill. Two state agencies, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and the Illinois Power Agency (IPA), have to sign off on community solar contracts.

Frequently asked questions

What are the benefits of community solar?
It can lower electric bills for subscribers and improve the power grid’s reliability. Also, adding solar power to the grid lessens the need for expensive power plants, lowering market prices for all.

Who can be a subscriber?
All residential and business customers can subscribe to a community solar garden—as long as it’s located in their electric utility’s service territory. The minimum subscription per customer is 200 watts, or about one solar panel. No individual can subscribe to more than 40 percent of a project, but you can subscribe to multiple projects.

Do subscribers get a solar garden’s power?
No. Unlike a home with its own solar panels, there’s no way to send the power generated by a solar garden exclusively to a subscriber’s home. Like all electricity, power produced by a solar garden is sent to the utility’s grid and distributed indiscriminately the moment it’s created.

How do I know what a good deal is?
The Illinois Commerce Commission and the Illinois Power Agency have to sign off on community solar contracts, so there are consumer protections. But some offers might be better for you than others. It will take math on your part to determine the costs vs. the benefits.

What if I move?
If you move to a new home within your utility’s territory, you can continue your subscription. If you move outside the territory, you must cancel your subscription or transfer it to another customer who meets the eligibility requirements.

Will I pay a fee if I end my subscription early?
You probably will have to pay a termination fee. That’s a good question to ask when you are considering a community solar project. Also ask if you are required to participate for a certain number of years.

How do I get involved?

1. First, maximize your home’s energy efficiency. (Efficient homes are great candidates for community solar.)

2. To browse potential community solar projects, visit:
www.SolarInTheCommunity.com.

3. Organize interested community members and propose a community solar project in your neighbhorhood.

Contact CUB, at 1-800-669-5556, if you want to be added to CUB’s “Community Solar Updates” email list.