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Comparing Community Solar, Community Choice Aggregation, and Green Energy Plans

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A community of homes with solar panels on the roof and the words "Community Solar" over top, representing options for shared use of solar power, including community solar, community choice aggregation, and green energy plans.
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Going solar is one of the best ways that you can help end global warming. However, many people still don’t have access to solar and can’t take part in the solar energy revolution for various reasons:

  • Homes with a small roof
  • Homes with too much shade
  • Home renters
  • Apartment dwellers

If you’ve tried going solar in the past with no success, you’re in luck! Thanks to programs like community solar, community choice aggregation, and green energy plans, you can now power your home with clean energy, even if you can’t put solar panels on your own roof. This article will help you compare the different ways you can still help the environment, even if you can’t install solar panels on your home.

What Is Community Solar?

As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, community solar programs help multiple people enjoy the shared benefits of solar energy. Together, they install a shared solar project or purchasing program in their common geographic area.

Participants can include individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and other groups living in the proposed service area of the project. Typically, the solar power is either generated at an off-site array, or from an on-site multifamily solar model.

  • Off-Site Array: The participants collectively either buy or lease some of the solar panels in the array. They then get an electricity bill credit for the electricity generated by their solar panels and can use that credit to pay for their utility bill.
  • Multifamily Solar Models: A more common solution for places like apartments or condominium complexes, all the occupants of the buildings will benefit from the energy produced by a centralized rooftop solar installation.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has collected some key statistics on the viability of community solar programs in the United States, as of December 2021:

  • About one-third of U.S. states have policies supporting community solar.
  • Community solar projects make up 3,253 megawatts alternating-current (MW-AC) of installed capacity.
  • About 74% of the community solar market is concentrated in four states: Florida (1,636 MW-AC), Minnesota (834 MW-AC), New York (731 MW-AC), and Massachusetts (674 MW-AC)

What Is Community Choice Aggregation?

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) allows local governments to buy electricity on behalf of the customers in their geographic area to get a wholesale price. They are designed to offer the following benefits:

  • Electricity at competitive prices
  • Energy programs tailored to the needs of your community
  • Local control by local community representatives
  • Revenue reinvested into the community
  • Supports local job creation with local energy projects

The “choice” part of community choice aggregation refers to choosing which energy resource the community will use for electricity. Common options include natural gas, nuclear, coal, or any form of renewable energy. The local government, potentially allied with other neighboring cities, will then buy electricity in bulk for the entire area to get electricity at a competitive price. While the government buys the electricity wholesale for its customers, investor-owned utilities will still transmit and distribute the electricity to those customers.

For green energy advocates and CCA customers, the goal is to get as many people in the area signed up in favor of solar power or wind energy. You want to let your leaders know that a majority of your community wants to support an eco-friendly option for their energy supply. This can help incentivize the development of additional renewable energy plans.

If you buy or rent a home in an area that has created a community choice aggregation program, you are automatically signed up for the program. You must opt-out if you don't want to participate.

The following states currently have areas with active community choice aggregation programs:

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island

Here are some interesting stats about community choice aggregation:

  • These programs have set several national green power and climate protection records, while still lowering power bills.
  • CCA programs have received recognition from the NREL and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for having significantly higher renewable energy portfolios while still keeping competitive rates.
  • Several CCA programs in major US population centers have greener energy portfolios than local utilities, but don't charge a premium. This has led to the EPA giving them "green power leadership awards" for their achievement in renewable energy.
  • There are 72 cities and counties that are fully powered by clean energy in the U.S., and 64 of them are CCA programs in California.
  • Nationwide, only 13% of CCA programs offer green power, as their main focus is lowering power costs.

Community Solar vs. Community Choice Aggregation

Let’s compare community solar projects and community choice aggregation programs.

The Similarities:

  • Both options serve a group of people rather than an individual.
  • They can both support local renewable energy advancement. However, community solar is more likely to.
  • Neither are available everywhere, so you have to research to see if these programs exist in your area or zip code.

The Differences:

  • You don't have to buy or lease solar panels for community choice aggregation.
  • Community choice aggregation typically has consolidated billing, while community solar often does not.

What Are Green Energy Plans?

Green energy is any electricity produced from a renewable energy source like wind, solar, biogas, geothermal, or low-impact small hydroelectric sources. (Compared to electricity produce by fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, which is definitely NOT green.) By signing up for a green energy electricity plan on your electric bill, people can choose to power their homes or businesses with clean energy without installing solar panels.

When you select a green power program from your utility company or retail electric provider, you give that company the money to buy a specific amount of electricity created exclusively from renewable energy. That green energy is then added to the larger utility grid. While it's not possible to guarantee that your home will use that clean energy, you are helping to add to the overall amount of renewable energy available on the electric grid.

Check with the utility company in your area to see if they offer specialized green power options for your energy bill. Depending upon whether or not you live in an area with deregulated energy, you may be able to select a retail electric provider that offers green energy plans.

Understanding Renewable Energy Credits

Green energy plans are powered by a concept called the Renewable Energy Certificates (REC).

  • One REC is the equivalent of 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or 1 Megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated by 100% renewable energy sources.
  • Each REC could be a combination of many different types of renewable energy, not just solar or wind.
  • RECs are a way to incentivize utility companies and retail electric providers (REP) to invest in green power without necessarily building the infrastructure to generate renewable energy.

When someone chooses a green energy plan for their home or business, the energy company must purchase enough RECs to equal that consumer’s energy usage.

  • Many states have created REC markets to encourage the increased development of green energy generation.
  • With a regulated REC market, more people can make money off of investing in green energy.
  • These markets allow utility companies and retail electric providers to purchase RECs to prove they have purchased green energy on behalf of their customers.
  • Markets exist specifically for Solar Renewable Energy Credits–RECs that are backed by 100% solar energy.

Green Energy vs. Clean Energy

While many people think green energy and clean energy are the same, they do have some specific differences:

  • Green energy refers to any energy that comes from a natural source like sunlight, water, or wind, while clean energy is any energy source that produces negligible pollution, chemical contaminants, or greenhouse gasses.
  • Green energy is always renewable, while clean energy can be renewable but does not have to be.

Pros and Cons of Community Solar, Community Choice Aggregation, and Green Energy Plans

If you want to go solar in your home but you don’t have the opportunity to install solar panels, choosing any of these three options is a great path forward. However, each one does have certain pros and cons that might help you make your decision.

Pros and Cons of Community Solar

Participants in community solar can benefit from the following:

  • Powering your home with solar energy
  • Shared maintenance of the solar panels
  • Flexible options for power and plans
  • Greater electricity rate stability

Community solar does have some downsides:

  • Solar tax incentives are not available
  • Unintended environmental consequences from clearing space for the panels
  • Not all states have community solar projects.

Pros and Cons of Community Choice Aggregation

Community choice aggregation has significant positives:

  • Lower energy costs than buying electricity on your own
  • Helps your city choose to invest in renewable energy sources
  • More transparency with local control

Distinct disadvantages to community choice aggregation do exist:

  • No guarantee that renewable energy resources can meet the demand
  • Continued reliance on the utility company for transmission and distribution

Pros and Cons of Green Energy Plans

Choosing a green energy plan for your home has plenty of positives:

Signing up for a green energy plan does have negatives:

  • Certain renewable resources can harm wildlife in certain areas
  • No guarantee you get green energy in your home
  • No guarantee rates are competitive with brown electricity

Deciding Between Community Solar, Community Choice Aggregation, and Green Energy Plans

One of the best things you can do to help protect the environment is to invest in solar power. However, not everyone can enjoy solar panels, including renters, apartment-dwellers, and more. Luckily, you can choose solar power in other ways.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to participate in community solar, community choice aggregation, or green energy plans.

  • Community solar and community choice aggregation are more recent developments and are not available in all areas.
  • They allow you to benefit from solar panels or invest your money in programs to get electricity from renewable resources rather than non-renewable ones.
  • Green energy plans allow you to enjoy electricity created from renewable resources while also telling energy companies that clean energy is important to you.

If you are interested in finding ways to be more eco-friendly with your energy consumption, you should reach out to your local utility company for more information. They should be able to tell you about options available in your area, including retail electric providers that offer green energy plans.

If you want to install solar panels on your own home to avoid rising energy prices, talk to Palmetto today. You can get started with a Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate to see how much you can save by going solar.

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