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How community solar can help you get the benefits — and savings — of solar panels without installing anything at home

It's the best of both worlds.

It's the best of both worlds.

Photo Credit: iStock

If you want to save hundreds or thousands of dollars on electricity while protecting the environment from pollution with one home upgrade, solar panels are the way to go. 

But not every home is a good fit for its own solar panel installation. As an alternative, you can sign up for a community solar program to get cleaner, often more affordable energy. 

What is community solar?

There are different models for how community solar works, but in general, it involves subscribing to a nearby solar farm — and in exchange, getting credit on your energy bills for some of the electricity they feed into the grid. 

Instead of getting power generated through polluting methods like coal plants, you're getting affordable, clean energy, but it still comes to you through your existing power grid.

Community solar is a good compromise if you aren't able to install your own solar panels. This could be because your roof gets too much shade or faces the wrong direction to get efficient energy from the sun, or you might have structural issues that make it impossible to install solar panels. Also, landlords and HOAs in many cases can and do restrict solar panel installation.

Of course, even if conditions are right and even with government rebates and tax incentives, solar panels still require an up-front investment that not everyone can afford. There are some programs and companies that will help you install your own solar panels on a budget or on a payment plan, but for many of us, community solar could still be a more affordable way forward.

How will community solar save me money?

First of all, most community solar programs offer power at a discount. The clean energy marketplace EnergySage says that "most community solar subscribers save between 5 and 20% annually on electricity costs." And some programs offer benefits depending on your financial need. Your subscription can also come with you if you move to a new house, with no setup or cancellation fees.

Plus, you're getting solar power without having to pay for solar panels. It's the best of both worlds.

What happens if I get my own solar panels later?

Even if you shut off your account, there are often no cancellation fees for leaving a community solar program (though it's good to know a plan's rules upfront). You can switch to generating your own power and still save money.

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