The Case for Simpler Community Solar Contracts

Recently Antenna’s Josh Garrett shared his experience signing up for a community solar project in New York State. His journey to solar ownership turned south when he encountered unfavorable contract terms and unclear financial models.

For many potential community solar subscribers, the decision to subscribe boils down to those same issues. As soon as a solar marketer presents a non-negotiable contract with onerous terms or can’t explain how payments for solar energy are allocated and collected, they’ve lost a solar customer.

The main challenge is that understanding how subscribing to a community solar project would affect an individual electric bill is rarely straightforward. With various players in the mix - a  developer, electric utility, off-takers, multiple owners - transactions are often multifaceted, making it difficult to decipher who would be paid what for the electricity and (in certain states) renewable energy credits generated by a community solar installation. Also because the price of electricity fluctuates, it’s challenging to know exactly how a price drop or spike could impact savings. Incomplete information or a lack of it can seem shady, so to speak.

Fortunately for community solar subscribers and the industry, some developers have made huge steps in the direction of models that promise clear, consistent savings. Eden Renewables guarantees that community solar subscribers will pay 10% less than their average, pre-solar electricity bill. Arcadia Power, a “digital utility” that sells power from multiple dispersed solar assets, also guarantees a certain amount of savings to its online subscriber base.

Excessively complex and burdensome contracts are another major impediment to community solar adoption. Traditional contracts range from 10, 20 or even 25 year terms. The long term commitment with no easy way out is a tough pill to swallow for buyers. Subscribers who try to cancel or need to move outside of their service area can face hundreds of dollars in fees--in Josh’s case, he’d have been on the hook for $600 if he moved out of the area at any point during the 20-year contract term..

Luckily many power producers are moving towards a solution - short term contracts with no cancellation fees. Companies like Solstice are offering just 1 year solar subscriptions, Nextamp offers pay as you go option with no cancellation fees, and BlueWave Solar offers no cancellation fees with a 90-day notice.

At Antenna, we’re building tools to help. We get the nuances of community solar models and the uncertainty subscribers experience. We’re urging the industry to continue to move towards plain and simple contracts and offering to tell the community solar story, in plain and simple terms, and to meet potential subscribers where they are in their customer journey.  

As we continue our conversations to better understand the role communications plays in alleviating pain points, we’d love to hear from you.