Community solar resources – individual consumers
The Maryland community solar program includes strong consumer protections such as minimum contract disclosures and requirements for sales agents working on behalf of subscriber organizations. You should ask for and review the subscriber organization’s subscriber agreement before subscribing to any particular project. These agreements should address things like the cost of the subscription, the length of the contract, termination fees, and more. Read it carefully and ask questions before signing. In addition to our introductory resources, below are additional Maryland-specific resources to review when deciding whether to subscribe to a project:
- Shopping for Community Solar – Solar United Neighbors’ guide helps you get started
- List of Maryland community solar projects – This is a tool Solar United Neighbors developed to help you evaluate existing community solar projects.
Questions to ask before enrolling in a community solar project:
Before subscribing to any particular project, ask for and review the subscriber organization’s subscriber agreement. These agreements should address things like the cost of the subscription, the length of the contract, termination fees, and more. Read it carefully and ask questions before signing.
A subscriber organization is registered with the Maryland Public Service Commission to own or operate a Community Solar Energy Generating System (CSEGS). The subscriber organization does the following:
- Offers subscriptions to customers (subscribers)
- Communicates with the utility company to make sure the solar energy is credited to each customer on their energy bill
- Bills customers for the solar energy they buy
- Provides customer support to subscribers
- Maintains the solar facility for its lifespan (25+ years)
Most frequently, community solar offerings will be to buy energy that’s produced by the solar array. This is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) and is the same thing you buy from your current energy company. You then get a credit for those kilowatt-hours applied to your utility bill.
Much less commonly, a project may offer you the option to buy a portion of the solar array upfront. In that case you are buying kilowatts (kW) or the capacity to produce energy. Depending on how many kilowatts you buy you will get a certain number of kilowatt-hours produced each month and applied to your energy company bill as a credit.
It should be! But, check the agreement from the provider and make sure you know what the cost per kilowatt-hour will be now, and what it could be in the future. There are several likely options for the price:
- It will go up by a certain percent each year.
- It will go up in the future but always stay less than the current cost of utility energy by a certain percent.
- It will stay the same for the entire contract.
It should! But it’s important to know how that saving happens. Over time, savings will come from the difference between what are you paying for community solar vs. what you would have paid for the same number of kilowatt-hours from your energy company. There are two key factors: whether your solar energy costs go up over time and how much the cost of energy from your energy company will go up in that same period.
Community solar projects will be owned by a variety of different types of organizations for different purposes. Here are some questions to consider as you make your decision:
- Who owns the project? Is it community-owned?
- Who operates it and how long have they been in business?
- Is there a performance guarantees on the energy produced?
- What insurance is in place to protect subscribers?
- Are there any local benefits from the project, like jobs created?
There are several key items that should be covered in plain language in your contract. These are required by the Maryland Public Service Commission.
- Contract price
- Term length
- Additional charges
- Early termination fees and requirements
- Renewal fees and conditions
- Dispute resolution procedures
- Insurance held by subscriber organization
- System maintenance details
- Company contact information
- Performance guarantees on the energy produced (if offered)
Providers often give you direct access to monitoring or some kind of monthly report on energy (kilowatt-hour) production. Be sure to ask how you will be informed about how much energy the system produced overall and your share. Will it show how much will be credited on your next energy company bill?
In most cases the answer is no. The project owner will take that credit to help pay for the whole system. As a subscriber you are buying energy (kWh) and not a share in the system itself. However, in some projects that divide up long-term ownership of the system among all participants, you may be able to take the tax credit on your portion of the system’s cost.
According to the regulations the subscriber organization owns the rights to all of the renewable energy credits that the system makes. In most cases the value of those credits is being used to pay for the system and is built into the price you are paying.
Do you know how much electricity you use on a monthly or yearly basis? This will be shown on your electricity bill. Your community solar provider should tell you how much of that total energy will now be coming from solar. It could be anywhere up to 200% of the total energy you use on a yearly basis. In most cases, subscribers will be best off by making sure they only subscribe for up to 100% of their total energy usage. Any energy you buy above 100% will get paid back to you at the end of the year by the energy company, but probably at a lower rate than what you originally paid for it.
In addition to your charge for energy are there any other monthly or yearly fees for maintenance or administrative purposes? Check the agreement to see or ask the sales person.