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Op-ed

Maryland’s community solar pilot program can help you save money — and the planet | GUEST COMMENTARY

Helpless. Powerless. Scared. That’s how we often feel about the climate crisis. But there are impactful actions we can all take to help protect our planet for current and future generations. One of the easiest is to sign up for Maryland’s community solar pilot program.

Whereas most Marylanders think about rooftop solar as the primary option for powering their home through clean electricity, community solar is becoming an increasingly popular option across the country with substantial benefits to both homeowners and renters. We are customers of Neighborhood Sun, a community solar provider, and below we describe how their setup works (The nonprofit Solar United Neighbors gives a comparison of many different providers, which can also be a helpful tool for customers).

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Unlike rooftop solar — which is also an important means of reducing household carbon emissions — community solar is free. Not only does community solar not require you to install anything on your home, but participants also receive discounts on their electricity bill, with larger savings available for lower-income households. This can help support access to clean energy for all households regardless of income levels or homeownership.

Everyone deserves access to affordable clean electricity, and all citizens deserve access to clean air. These are interlinked issues of economic justice and public health, which must be addressed as we look to the future.

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The way community solar works is simple. You subscribe to a “share” of the power produced by a community solar project (a large solar array that is connected to your power grid). By subscribing, you receive a monthly credit on your electricity bill for the energy produced by your portion of the solar array.

The first step is to sign up and be added to a list of customers who are seeking to be assigned to a regional solar facility. Once enough customers register, this allows a developer to initiate a new solar project, and once the array is built and operating, customers are assigned their share of the power produced by the facility.

Regardless of where your community solar facility is located, there is no difference in the electricity service at your home. Your utility still “delivers” your electricity through their power lines. However, since most or all of your electricity will be supplied by clean solar power rather than carbon-intensive coal or natural gas, you can directly contribute to addressing climate change and improve air quality throughout the state.

Unlike other green power options on the marketplace — which can be unclear or sometimes misleading — community solar is one of few opportunities where customers know exactly where their renewable energy is being sourced.

When you subscribe, you are guaranteed to pay less for your electricity bill. This is how it works: Each month, in addition to your regular electric bill, you receive an invoice from your solar provider. On your electric bill, you get a credit (cost reduction) for the power generated by your solar subscription. Your solar provider invoices you for the same amount as the credit — which means you’d break-even — except they give a 5-10% discount (and more for low-income households), so you always save money.

You can cancel at any time, for any reason, at no cost. Although considering the ease and benefits we can’t imagine why you would want to. This means a long-term contract is purely a benefit to you since you can cancel anytime, but otherwise you will remain enrolled with long-term savings locked in.

With community solar, your home’s electricity is not impacted by weather. There is no difference in your home electricity service since you are still connected to the local power grid. Even if something catastrophic were to happen to the solar array, you would not be impacted, since your electricity supply would revert to what you have now.

For those who are already getting their electricity supplied by a company that claims to be “green” or “renewable”: You can (and should, in our opinion) sign up for community solar. The process and environmental benefits are straightforward, and instead of paying a cost premium for green power, you will receive a financial savings and can take pride in knowing exactly where your renewable power comes from.

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Michael Rosenblum (mrosen@jhu.edu) is professor of biostatistics at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Julian Goresko (jgoresko@jhu.edu) is sustainability director at Johns Hopkins University. The opinions expressed herein are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Johns Hopkins University.


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