solar panels on green grass field

How do Community Solar Gardens Work?

Community solar gardens are a more affordable and accessible alternative to installing solar panels on your home. Not only does it require no upfront cost, but you also don’t need to install any equipment on your property — which is ideal for renters and those who live in apartments!

Solar energy offers clean, renewable power that can reduce or even completely eliminate your monthly electric bills. What’s not to love!? Well, between the high upfront cost and the requirements for a “solar ready” property, many homeowners and renters simply can’t install solar panels on their property. Does that mean they can’t use lovely solar power? Not at all!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to save money by switching to clean, local solar energy, we’ve got you covered!

If you’re interested in running your household on renewable energy, here’s what you need to know about how a community solar garden works.

Step 1: Build a community solar garden

The first step for a community solar garden is to actually build the garden. A landowner with a nice solar-ready chunk of land decides to install a solar array to generate electricity. They pay for the upfront cost of installation and ongoing maintenance to keep the solar garden running.

The ideal property for a community solar garden looks like this:

  • Flat with very few (any) slopes
  • Clear without shade from trees or mountains
  • Little to no wetlands and low-to-no risk of flooding
  • Five-degree maximum incline on any hills
  • Plenty of acreage (10 acres minimum in most states)
  • Within 1,000 feet of three-phase power and two miles of a substation

Even if a property is physically perfect for a solar array, you still have to follow all local and state regulations. Local policies dictate whether you can or cannot make your property into a community solar garden. Be sure to check local regulations before staring the project. 

The solar array is connected to the local utility power grid to supply energy to the surrounding area. It takes about 10 acres of solar panels to produce 1 megawatt (MW), which is enough to power anywhere from 400 to 900 area homes. Community solar installations in some states are as large as 2,000 acres or more!

white and blue solar panels
If you qualify, community solar gardens can be a great way to monetize extra land!

Step 2: Get subscribers

It takes a lot of money to build and maintain a large multi-acre community solar garden. To offset the cost, local residents in the utility’s area pay the owner of the solar garden to use their clean energy. Typically, these payments come in the form of a monthly subscription.

The monthly subscription price and the terms of the community solar contract vary. Before subscribing to a community solar project, make sure you understand the terms up front. 

Step 3: Produce clean, renewable energy

Once the community solar garden is built and connected to the utility (backed by the support of the subscribers), it generates clean, renewable energy and pumps it back into the power grid to provide energy for area residents. 

The subscription fees are sent to the property owner to help maintain the solar array and offset some of the cost of installation. Over time, the solar panels will pay for themselves and allow the property owner to earn a little extra income, while helping their local community save on their energy bills. Win, win!

Step 4: Enjoy your energy savings

In exchange for their subscriptions, the community solar garden members get a credit on their energy bills. While the energy produced by the solar garden won’t be enough to take subscribers off the grid completely, the credit can reduce your energy bills between 10-25%. 

The subscription cost is generally much lower than the savings, so you’ll get to keep more money in your pocket every month! Plus, the knowledge that you’re helping to save the planet is pretty nice, too.

Since the energy is being pumped directly into the energy grid, subscribers don’t have to worry about expensive installations or ridiculous property requirements. Anyone, regardless of where they live or if they own their home, can enjoy renewable solar energy with community solar.

Landscape Photography of Sunflower Field during Sunset
Whether you benefit from receiving solar energy or producing it, you’re part of our essential clean energy future

Save money with affordable community solar energy

Expensive solar installations aren’t for everyone. Whether you can’t get past the $20k-plus sticker price for a full installation, your property isn’t suitable for solar, or if you rent your home, you can find a community solar garden near you ready to supply your household with clean, renewable energy.

Community solar gardens are off-site solar arrays built and maintained by the support of area subscribers. All the energy generated by the array is sent back to the grid to help subscribers save on their energy bills — no matter what their budget or living situation looks like.

With projects like community solar, solar energy is more affordable and accessible than ever. If you’re interested in harnessing the energy of the sun to power your household, find out which community solar projects are near you.

You can also read our Community Solar Farm blog to learn more about the benefits of community solar to see if it’s right for you.

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