The Good and Bad of Community Solar Gardens

If you own your own commercial or residential property and want to reduce utility spending, installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is your best option. Once your panels go online, you reduce your reliance on the utility grid by generating your own clean electricity.

But what about the millions upon millions of folks who don’t own their properties?

Well, to go solar, you need to get your landlord’s permission first. Some will be thrilled by the idea – others won’t.

As a result, apartment dwellers and commercial property renters have been largely left out of the solar revolution.

But then along came community solar gardens – a solution that allows you to buy into an off-site PV installation. It’s very similar to renting a shared garden if you live in a crowded city and don’t have your own backyard.

By buying into a community solar project, you benefit from lower utility bills and carbon offsets. Those green electrons don’t come directly to you necessarily. But as a partial owner of the community solar garden, you’re able to sell excess electricity to the utility company and use those credits to reduce your own utility bills.

But there’s a catch.

Why Community Solar Gardens Might Not Be for Everyone

It turns out that many companies that advertise community solar strip away some of the so-called “green” benefits and resell them to 3rd parties.

In essence, these companies keep the renewable energy credits (REC’s) and sell them on the open market for a tidy profit. Sometimes they sell them directly to power providers in other states that are trying to meet their respective renewable energy mandates.

Don’t get us wrong. You’re still helping to reduce the total amount of pollution in the atmosphere. And you also do save money – sometimes a lot of money. But as Severin Borenstein of UC Berkeley points out,

“If you’ve installed solar at your home and are now basking in the I’m-saving-the-planet warm glow, you may be in for a splash of ice water. There’s a good chance someone else has purchased your halo and is wearing it right now.”

It’s worth pointing out that some community solar companies are 100% transparent about how these green benefits and renewable energy credits work. There is no bait and switch involved – and their customers are perfectly happy with the arrangement. Remember, anyone who buys into a community solar plot saves money and is helping to save the planet.

The reason this story is a “story” is because some marketers use deceptive advertising to trick customers into buying in. The problem has gotten so bad that Vermont’s Attorney General recently issued a warning saying that,

“If your solar project sells the RECs, do not make any statements or suggestions that consumers are using renewable energy from your project.”

Depending on where you live, community solar may still be a great option for you. It has helped bring countless property renters into the green movement. But before you sign up, be sure to read the fine print first.

If you have specific questions about community solar gardens in California, don’t hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.

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