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Community Solar vs. Owning Your Solar

Community Solar and owning your own solar can both help you save money on your energy bill as well as help the environment. Both are good options when looking to move towards clean energy, but owning your own solar can maximize financial benefits over time. Community solar is a good option for when you are unable to install solar on your roof or your property directly.

Looking at things from a sustainability, clean energy front, community solar does help take bigger steps in clean energy as the large installation offers larger amounts of solar energy (3). This is useful when many people in the same area want to go solar. Often it is just an individual who wants to go solar, and in this case, it is a great choice to own your solar system if possible. However, when you invest in community solar, the third-party company who owns the solar reaps most of the profit, not you. Owning your solar PV system allows for much more customization when it comes to energy produced and offers a higher return on investment over time.

What is Community Solar?

Community solar is a large central power plant where solar energy is shared between homes -sometimes up to thousands of people, depending on the size of the power plant. Within community solar, there are generally two options: a subscription plan or an ownership plan (1). With a subscription plan, you are essentially a “subscriber” to the solar power plant with little upfront fees and immediate utility bill savings, but with no other financial incentives, such as tax credits (2). With an ownership plan, it is similar to installing solar panels on your property, but also provides no tax credits from the government. This is something very important to note, as tax credits can equal roughly half of the total project cost.

These large solar power plants do not exist everywhere. Generally, you must live within a set radius of the plant to take advantage of it (2). These large solar farms rely on large, open areas which aren’t always available (3). For instance, cities or other highly populated areas may not have space to construct a community solar power plant.

Community Solar farm in New York
PV Magazine: Community Solar Farm in New York

Community vs Owning: A Comparison

Community Solar

  • Installed at separate location -solar power plant
  • Good for apartments, condominiums, rented spaces, people who move often
  • Good for homes with lots of shading on roof, or not enough room for a ground mount system
  • Save 5-15% off typical electricity bill (be careful of cost of energy bill compared to cost of community solar to ensure bill is high enough to benefit)
  • More flexible, can change the amount of solar panels/energy you are using
  • Not available in every state (available in areas of NY)
  • No federal or state solar incentives available
  • Often has a cancellation fee, especially if cancelling early

Owning Your Solar

  • Installed on your property (roof mount or ground mount)
  • Must be homeowner or property owner
  • You own the system
  • Increases home or property value (higher resell value)
  • Better customization of solar system and amount of energy desired to be produced
  • No third party fees -you directly get all energy savings from solar panels
  • Eligible for 30% Federal tax credit and 25% NY State tax credit towards financing solar 
  • NYSERDA incentives and financing
  • Better return on investment long-term
  • Can save excess energy generated by solar panels with batteries

Who is Community Solar Designed for?

Community solar is designed for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to invest in solar energy (4). This is good for individuals who are not able to put solar on their property -renters, for instance (2). When renting a residence, such as an apartment or condo, you don’t have ownership of the residence or roof, and so cannot install a solar system directly on the property. Individuals who move often can also find benefits in a subscription plan as there are often differing options in length. One bigger drawback is that although you will save on your energy bill, you will still be paying significantly more monthly than if you owned the solar panels (3). 

What is the Best Choice for You?

Community solar can be a great option for many people who are ineligible for owning their own solar, but you can reap all the financial benefits when you own your solar. When thinking of going solar, owning solar provides the best long-term return on investment through decreased utility costs, added value onto your home, and tax benefits from the government. Since you own your solar panels, there is no third party taking away from your savings. Community solar works because the company who owns the solar farm makes a profit. This means a big portion of the savings you could see when owning solar will be paid to the company. 

Community solar can be a great way to invest in solar and gain the benefits if that is your only option. However, if you invest the money and space by owning your solar, you can gain more benefits in the long run!