FAQ and Answers for Community Solar

How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?

Solar panels absorb the sun’s energy throughout the day and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. Most homes and businesses run on alternating current (AC) electricity, so the DC electricity is then passed through an inverter to convert it to usable AC electricity. At that point, you either use the electricity in your house or send it back to the electric grid. See how solar panels produce electricity for homes, businesses, and farms.

What are the financial benefits of solar energy?

Home and business owners can often realize a 10% ROI or better. Given their longevity, the systems can pay for themselves well within their lifetime while producing clean energy. As energy prices continue to rise, the return on investment can also improve.

What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?

Solar is one of the best ways to decrease your carbon footprint. The Midwest is powered largely with coal, so each kWh produced from a solar system essentially saves one pound of coal from being burned. A solar electric system will offset the energy to produce the modules in less than 3 years – that means truly clean energy for the remaining life of the system over the next 25+ years!

How do I know what size solar electric system I need?

Your best starting point is to determine how many kilowatt hours (kWhs) your home used in each of the previous 12 months. With this, we can compare expected monthly solar energy production to your electricity usage. Annual electricity usage total is also a good start. You’ll find your monthly kWh records via paper copies of your utility bills, a phone call to your utility provider, or through your online utility account.

What is the best location for a solar array?

A south-facing area that gets sun from approximately 9 am to 3 pm is best. Solar systems also work well even when facing west or east, if that’s your best option. We can mount the systems on the majority of roof types, including a variety of materials used on pitched and flat roofs. Systems can also be ground-mounted.

How long do the systems work and how durable are they?

Solar electric systems are designed last more than 25 years.  Many solar electric systems from the 1970s and 1980s are still functioning today. Solar electric systems need very little maintenance and have a long functioning life. The solar electric panels themselves have a 25-year production warranty and will sustain 1-inch hail impact at 50 mph.

What is community solar and how is this different from rooftop solar?

A community “shared” solar array is a single array that provides solar energy to multiple subscribers. Community solar is contrasted to the typical rooftop solar array, in which one solar array provides solar energy to a single energy user. Virtual net metering is the billing arrangement that allows energy users to subscribe to community shared solar arrays and receive bill credits.

Who can subscribe to a community solar array?

Customers of the three Investor Owned Utilities in Illinois, including Ameren Illinois, ComEd, or MidAmerican – including those who purchase their electricity supply through a third-party or retail electric supplier (RES) – may subscribe to a community solar array in their utility territory. The minimum subscription amount will be 200 Watts (or 0.2 KW).

For larger commercial and industrial electricity users, there is a limitation that no single subscriber may subscribe to more than 40% of a community solar project in Illinois. However, a single subscriber may subscribe to multiple community solar arrays.

What is Virtual Net Metering and how does it work in Illinois?

Virtual Net Metering allows electricity produced (in KWHs) by a community solar array, located anywhere in the same utility service territory as your electric meter, to be credited towards the amount of KWHs that you used – although the KWH credits will only apply to the electric supply charges, not the delivery charges, taxes, or fees charged by the utility.

How do community solar subscriptions work?

The energy production of each community solar array will be metered and divided among the subscribers based on the amount of KWs included in individual subscription contracts. The community solar array’s KWHs are credited to your electric bill through a policy called Virtual Net Metering.

Here is a basic example of how a community solar subscription will affect an Ameren IL electric bill:

Household Electric Usage in the month of September = 800 KWH
Community Solar Energy Production in September = 500 KWH

September Electric Bill with Community Solar Subscription
300 KWH @ Non-Community Solar Electric Supply Rate
800 KWH @ Delivery Rate
800 KWH @ Taxes & Fees

500 KWH @ Community Solar Subscription Rate (approximately 10% lower than non-Community Solar supply rate)

What is the timeline for the community solar subscription program?

In April 2019, the Illinois Power Agency held a lottery to select sites eligible for construction of community solar arrays. StraightUp Solar’s ShineMine sites were not selected in this first round. As these arrays are built in 2019, solar developers  will begin offering community solar subscriptions in Com Ed and Ameren utility territory. 

By beginning 2020, we expect that the first community solar arrays will be installed, which will then be energized and ready to supply electricity to subscribers.

For more information on community solar in Illinois, go to the Illinois Shines FAQ page at http://illinoisshines.com/faq/

What happens to my community solar subscription if I move or have to cancel?

Subscriptions to community shared solar arrays will be both transferable and portable within the same utility service territory. You are able to cancel your subscription at any time.

What About Community Solar Arrays in Missouri?

Despite the clear advantages, billing and and regulatory complications can pose a significant challenge, and so adoption in Missouri has been slow.

There are just a handful of community solar arrays around the state.  These have been sponsored by either a rural electric coop or a municipal electric utility.

At this time, Ameren Missouri has developed their own community solar program, and has already issued all subscriptions for existing community solar arrays developed by the utility in 2019.

You can do your part to expand community solar in Missouri by calling your legislator about your desire to increase community solar subscription options for utility customers. 

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