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Community solar projects are large solar panel systems that utility customers can subscribe to in exchange for credits on their electric bills. This allows people to participate in the shift to clean energy without needing to own a home or install their own panels.
Installing a rooftop solar system is a great option for some home and business owners, but it’s not an option for everyone. Community solar is a great option for renters, people who live in multifamily buildings and other customers who want to use clean energy but may not have a sunny roof of their own or the means to invest in a rooftop system. Customers can subscribe to a portion of a community solar project and receive a credit on their monthly utility bill for the electricity generated from their portion.
First, a project manager develops a community solar project. Then, a customer subscribes to the project by signing up with a subscription manager. Customers can connect with managers currently enrolling new participants through the “How to sign up” section of the Get Started page. Or, if a customer meets low-income guidelines, they can sign up through Community Energy Project, our low-income partner. When the community solar project begins generating clean energy, the participant will start receiving a credit on their utility bill for their portion of the electricity generated.
Not necessarily. You can subscribe to any community solar project located within the territory of your current electric utility. Some utilities serve many communities around the state; in that case, you do not need to live in or near the same community as a community solar project to subscribe.
Most Oregon customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Idaho Power are eligible to participate in the Oregon Community Solar Program. You can participate if you are a resident, a business, nonprofit or government entity. It doesn’t matter whether you own or rent your home or building. It doesn’t matter what kind of home you live in. As long as you have a utility account with PGE, Pacific Power or Idaho Power, you can subscribe to a community solar project.
Customers who participate in green power programs like the PGE Green Source, Clean Wind, or Green Future programs, the Pacific Power Blue Sky program, and the Idaho Power Green Power Program are eligible for community solar without restriction. Participants in these programs should be aware that their enrollment in the Oregon Community Solar Program will not change the quantity of renewable energy certificates purchased from their utility green power program, and if they take no action they could be purchasing renewable energy products through two programs to offset the same consumption. If a customer does not want to participate in both programs, they may unenroll or change their participation in their utility green power program when they sign up for community solar.
Net Metering and Green Tariff customers are eligible for community solar, with restrictions. Customers that have a net metered renewable energy system are eligible to participate in community solar, but the combined production of their net-metered system and their community solar subscription may not exceed their annual consumption. That means that a customer that only partially offsets their energy consumption with on-site net metering could use community solar to offset their remaining energy consumption.
However, if a customer’s on-site net metering system serves all or nearly all of their energy needs, they cannot participate in community solar. Similarly, customers that purchase bundled energy and renewable energy certificates through a utility program can only use community solar to meet their remaining net consumption – currently, this only applies to the PGE Schedule 55 Green Tariff program, which is only available to large non-residential customers.
Depending on the renewable energy programs that a customer is enrolled in, they may be restricted in their ability to participate in the Oregon Community Solar Program. Customers that installed a renewable energy system that receives a volumetric incentive rate (VIR) are ineligible. Most customers with on-site solar do not receive a VIR and are compensated under normal net metering rules, and this restriction does not apply to them. Certain kinds of non-residential customers are also not eligible for the program as a class, including direct access customers, lighting or traffic signal accounts, and cost of service opt-out customers.
To subscribe to a community solar project, a customer must sign up with either the project manager building or operating the project or a subscription manager acting as an agent of the project manager. Subscribers will sign a contract with the project or subscription manager for a portion of the solar system. Subscribers receive credits on their monthly electricity bills for the energy generated by their portion of a community solar project in the prior month. Customers can connect with subscription managers currently enrolling new participants through the “How do I sign up?” section of the Get Started page. If you qualify for a low-income subscription, schedule an appointment with Community Energy Project, our low-income facilitator.
Questions you may want to ask include:
To figure out your average yearly electricity use, you can look at your bills and add up the last 12 months of kilowatt hours (kwh). Alternatively, you can call and ask your utility.
If you have fewer than six months of utility months at your current home or business location, the Community Solar Program will estimate the average electricity use of your home or business based on data about similar properties. You can ask your project manager or contact program support at [email protected] for an estimate.
Your subscription can’t exceed 100% of your average yearly electricity use, and you can’t subscribe to more the 40% of a single project’s capacity. But, other than that, it’s up to you to choose a subscription that fits your needs and your budget.
Every home and business is unique, so before choosing your subscription level, review your previous year’s utility bills so you know your actual usage. Also keep in mind that, your energy use may go down during the life of your subscription. It may be smart to include a buffer to account for changes like this and aim for no more than 80% of your typical use. When you connect with a subscription manager through the “How do I sign up?” section of the Get Started page, the subscription manager will look at your energy usage and recommend a subscription level that meets your energy usage.
The minimum community solar project subscription period is 10 years, and the maximum is 20 years. However, you can transfer your subscription if you are still within the same utility area and if it is approved by the program administrator. There may be a fee involved with the transfer, which should be listed in your contract. Low-income customers may not transfer their subscription unless it is to a member of the same household who is taking over responsibility for the utilities. In this case, there is no transfer fee.
Low-income households will have access to the same benefits as a standard subscription, but with reduced subscription fees of at least 20%, no up-front costs, and no termination fees to make it easier to take part in the program.
You must be a customer of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, or Idaho Power, and you must meet the income guidelines provided on the Subscriber Resources page.
If you qualify, reach out to the low-income facilitator at [email protected]. The facilitator will work with you to go through their screening process, and after they’ve confirmed your eligibility, you will be added to the project waitlist.
A Community Solar subscription should have no impact on emergency energy assistance (such as LIHEAP), but may or may not impact utility allowances when tied to subsidized affordable housing.
The standard contract outlines all of the rules and polices that you and your project manager are required to follow.
You are signing the contract with your project manager.
If your utilities are shut off, you must notify either Community Energy Project or your project manager. They will work with you to figure out how to adjust your subscription, what next steps you can take to continue participating in the program, or how to cancel your subscription.
Costs vary by project and type of subscription. Many projects will offer the option to pay for your subscription over time on your utility bill. Your monthly payment will depend on the size of your subscription and whether you’re on a fixed or variable subscription plan.
Some projects may also offer the option to pay for your subscription upfront or through a combination of upfront and ongoing payments. Please review your subscription options and reach out to the project manager or program customer support if you have any questions.
Costs will also vary for subscriptions designed specifically for income-qualified participants.
Specifics on your subscription should be discussed with your project manager.
All participants within the program are allowed to cancel or transfer your subscription. There is a three-day window for participants to cancel their contracts after signing. You will need to contact your project manager to inform them of the change. Refer to your contract to see if there are any fees associated.
As long as you stay with the same power company, you can take your subscription with you. If you move to a new utility territory that is Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, or Idaho Power, reach out to program support for assistance.
Bill Credit Reconciliation occurs in April each year. This is when a participant’s allocated kilowatt-hour production and electricity usage of the site is compared. If there was an excess kWh credited, it will be donated at the as-available-avoided-cost rate for use in the low-income programs. The intent is to prevent participants from over-sizing their subscription. The adjustment will appear on the participant's next utility bill.
Subscribers and owners will receive the Renewable Energy Certificates for their portion of a community solar project. Renewable Energy Certificates represent the environmental, economic and social benefits of a renewable energy project. Project managers are required to retire RECs on behalf of customers, preventing them from being sold.