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What Is Community Solar?

Everyone is familiar with rooftop solar panels. These are installed on homes, garages and barns – wherever there is adequate sunlight. Rooftop solar panels are popular because consumers can replace some of the expensive electricity produced by their utility company with inexpensive electricity produced at their own home. And any electricity produced beyond what the consumer actually uses is “sold” back to the utility in exchange for credits on her electric bill.

But not everyone who wants solar power can install rooftop panels. Some homes and businesses are in shady areas where there is not enough sunlight. Other people rent and don’t have the freedom to make structural changes to their homes and apartments. That’s where community solar comes to the rescue.

Community solar is a way for homeowners and renters alike to share in the benefits of cheap, clean solar power without the hassle and upfront costs of installing panels. One large local solar project generates electricity, which goes into the power grid just like it came from a coal-fired power plant. Of course, everybody benefits that way because the operations from a solar project don’t create carbon pollution like a coal plant does.

But wait, there’s more! Consumers can participate in the economic benefits of community solar by subscribing to a share of the power generated. Once enrolled, community solar subscribers earn solar credits on their monthly electricity bills, which reduces their annual electricity costs. Solar credits are personalized to each member’s home electric usage and based on the amount of energy the solar facility produces.

With community solar, the consumer is still connected to their utility and uses power generated by that utility – it just costs less because of the bill credits. There are no reliability issues because there are no changes in your service, only how much you pay for it.

Typical community solar members save about 5% to 15% off their annual electricity costs. For example, a typical consumer who pays $90 to subscribe to a community solar project could expect to see their utility bill reduced by about $100 for that period. Over time, the difference can add up to thousands of dollars in savings.

Community solar has become very popular in the United States. More than 40 states have at least one community solar project. For example, there are 30 community solar projects in Maryland. As of March 2024, 6.5 gigawatts of community solar have been installed in the U.S., with more so be installed soon.

But West Virginians can’t participate in community solar until our Legislature allows it. A recent poll commissioned by Conservation West Virginia found that 92% of young voters believed that West Virginians are being forced to buy expensive power from monopoly power companies that use outdated coal plants and that politicians need to allow other energy sources into the state.

Bills authorizing community solar in West Virginia have been introduced in 2023 and 2024. In each year, the bill stalled in committee never reaching a vote in the full Legislature. The receptiveness of West Virginia citizens to new sources of electric power is way out in front of our lawmakers. It is time we insisted that these lawmakers act responsibly and give us, not the power companies, what we ask for.