While soaking up the sun may still be free, solar panels are far from it. Due to barriers like up-front costs, location requirements, and homeownership status, rooftop solar may never be an option for the majority of Americans.
Fortunately, rooftop solar is no longer the only way for homes to be powered by clean energy from the sun. With no installations, costs, or fees, community solar allows anyone to join the solar revolution and start saving money on each electric bill.
Rather than each home having its own rooftop panels, the community approach removes the burden of up-front installation costs or fees from residents by using shared panels located on an off-site solar farm. This key difference is what allows community solar to extend access to anyone with an electric bill– renters, residents in multi-unit buildings, municipalities, nonprofits, and even businesses that don’t own their own roofs. Each subscribing household is allocated its own “share” of solar panels located on a nearby solar farm. Clean energy credits then appear at a discounted rate on the subscriber’s monthly bill based on the electricity generated by their share of solar panels.
Unfortunately, the focus of community solar companies hasn’t historically been on the communities that need it the most… Fortunately, things have changed.
In 2019, less than half of community solar projects had any participation from Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) Households. At the time, most community solar subscribers were businesses, universities, and higher-earning households because those projects involved long
contracts and steep enrollment fees.
Since then, the community solar industry has become increasingly inclusive as small, local community solar companies like Neighborhood Sun make it their mission to bring clean and affordable energy to ALL, rather than just a select few.
Nothing embodies this progress towards equity better than the landmark community solar project set to break ground right here in Montgomery County, Maryland. The project, known as Oaks Landfill, was recently announced by Neighborhood Sun and Ameresco, Inc. to launch in 2022 as the nation’s largest community solar project dedicated 100% to LMI Residents. In addition to guaranteeing access to clean energy and cost savings for local LMI Residents, the project is also a great stride towards the county’s goal to eliminate 100% of carbon emissions by 2035.
“This project provides not only energy cost savings to the County and its participating low-to-moderate-income residents, but also leverages the use of an under-utilized land asset that will produce revenue for the County, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to its carbon neutrality goal,” said Ameresco Senior Vice President Jon Mancini. “Through this initiative, the County will demonstrate continued commitment to sustainability that will deliver economic and environmental benefits to the Montgomery County Community for many years to come.”
As the name indicates, the solar farm doubles as a creative way to repurpose a former landfill into an environmental asset that brings cost savings to residents and local jobs to the community. Neighborhood Sun, the project’s community solar provider, is a Certified B Corp that
was voted “Best in the World” in the Environment category, meaning it scored in the top 5% for environmental impact compared to all B Corporations of a similar size. Although it’s hard for residents to feel like they have a relationship with energy providers beyond paying a monthly bill, Neighborhood Sun is different. As your local, friendly clean energy provider, Neighborhood Sun is a small business based in the very same county as the residents it serves through Oaks Landfill.
“The equitable and just deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. is critical to expanding our clean energy economy and addressing environmental injustice,” said Gary Skulnik, CEO, Neighborhood Sun. “As a Montgomery County business, we are especially pleased with the
county’s support for expanding energy access into underserved communities.
Neighborhood Sun has already served nearly 800 local LMI Residents in the DMV area, saving them a total of $90,000. These numbers are poised to grow dramatically once the solar farm on Oaks Landfill launches. While the project is under construction, qualifying residents (LMI) can sign up to reserve their household’s share of the solar farm at no cost.
LMI Residents in the Pepco Maryland utility territory can benefit from 25% guaranteed savings on their current electricity costs by subscribing to the Oaks Landfill Community Solar Project. There is no cost to join and no fee to cancel– just a whole bunch of cost savings, community support, and clean energy.
This first-of-its-kind solar farm is a significant step towards energy equity, but others must follow in its footsteps if we hope to keep up the momentum.
Submitted by Emily Tokarowski, Vice President of Marketing, Neighborhood Sun Benefit Corp., www.NeighborhoodSun.solar