Community Solar Customers – Everything You Need to Know!

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Thank you for being one of our Charter Subscribers to Neighborhood Sun. You’re going to want to save this message because it provides you with answers and resources regarding your subscription to community solar with Neighborhood Sun.  We hope that all of your questions to this point have been answered to your satisfaction, but we also want to provide you with a plethora of resources to find answers to the most common questions that we have received from other subscribers over our first year and a half of operation.

Many of these questions have to do with the way that community solar works and for most of you, this serves as a “Refresher Course.” We now have more than a year of experience in dealing with the utilities in the real world and not just in theory, and so we are also providing some answers to questions that, quite honestly, no one could have anticipated prior to our projects being up and running.

As always, if there are questions that you have that are not addressed in the message, please do not hesitate to reach out to us directly at [email protected] or by calling us at (240) 284-6245.  We do truly enjoy hearing from you.


The first item that we want to share with you is a brief, 30 second video that explains how community solar works at a very high level. It is merely an introduction, but serves as a great place to begin to understand how the various parties involved interact with one another – the subscriber (you), the utility, Neighborhood Sun and the Developer (the company that owns, operates and maintains the solar project).

There are also a lot of answers to the most common questions that we receive on our website’s FAQs page!

These are the two best resources to answer most of the questions that arise from our subscribers, both those that are brand new to community solar, but also to those who have been with us since the very beginning.

However, the purpose of this message is not to merely direct you somewhere else, but rather to provide you with immediate answers to the most common questions that we receive every day, even before they arise, so we have put together this message in a few sections to give you an easily accessible resource.


THE FIRST SECTION is intended to put the community solar pilot program into layman’s terms that don’t use “insider” terminology or lingo:

Perhaps the best way to think about how it works it to break it down into 3 separate transactions – they do overlap, but make a lot more sense when they are considered individually:

1.

The utility is obligated to buy the electricity that is generated on your behalf at the full retail price – that is, the price that they charge residents for electricity. When they raise their price per kWh they also pay more for the electricity that the solar project puts onto the grid from your portion.  The same is true if their prices fall.  That is why we are able to guarantee savings through the entirety of your subscription.

They compensate you for this electricity by issuing credits to your utility bill – if you have any difficulty finding the credits on your bill you can click HERE and scrolling to the bottom of the page and selecting your utility to see a sample bill (each utility has their own version and placement).

 

2.

The next transaction is also between you and the utility – it is for the delivery of electricity to your home.  The utility owns and maintains the infrastructure (the “grid”) and charge each of their customers for the service as well as the delivery and the supply of electricity – keep in mind that, at this point, the electricity that was generated on your behalf now belongs to them because they purchased it from you by issuing credits.

  • There are also other fees and charges such as taxes on your bill as line items – these can vary from one county to another
  • In the case of third-party suppliers, as many of our subscribers use, the utility still adds that supply charge to your bill and pays the third party supplier from your payment to them.  That is why there is no conflict and you may be with Neighborhood Sun AND a third-party supplier simultaneously.

 

3.

The last transaction, in chronological order, is the subscribers payment for the solar credits.  Neighborhood Sun charges the subscriber for the electricity generated on their behalf at the agreed upon discount – this amount is provided to Neighborhood Sun by the utility several weeks after the credits appear on the subscriber’s utility bill.

  • This is one of the most common causes of confusion –  because of the unavoidable lag time that exists as a result of the process, very often the invoice from Neighborhood Sun is issued more than a month after the credits have been issued – meaning that another month of credits has likely already appeared on the next utility bill.  That is why, for subscribers who track their bills closely, there are frequently questions as to why the numbers for an individual month do not appear to align.
  • To provide a visual aid in understanding this, we have put together a set of infographics – one for each utility (because they do vary in their response time).  You may take a look at the info-graph that applies to you utility by clicking HERE and looking toward the bottom right-hand side of the page.
  • A benefit for the subscribers as a result of this process is that you will always be cash-positive as long as your subscription is active.  In other words, you get the dollar value of your credits long before you are billed for them.

THE SECOND SECTION deals with seasonality of the solar projects, household usage, and how it affects your billing:

It makes a lot of sense when it is thought through, but it is not necessarily intuitive.  Solar panels produce less electricity in the winter than they do in the summer.  That may be logical, but what most people don’t know is that the amount of electricity generated is about half

  • The Mid-Atlantic and surrounding states get almost 15 hours of sunlight in the peak summer months and about 9 hours in the winter.
  • The angle of the sun during the winter makes all solar panels (not just our) far less efficient – solar panels are at peak efficiency when they are hit by sunlight at a right angle.
  • Atmospheric conditions also play a role – winter weather simply has more days of cloud cover.

In addition, as anyone who sits down to pay their monthly electric bills knows, the change in seasons also results in a change in electricity consumption.  Broadly speaking, there are 2 types of households that we service:  residencies that use electricity to heat and cool their home and those that are heated using another source such as gas or oil.  In both cases there is a spike in electrical usage during the summer months and in the former there is also a spike during the cold winter months.

So how does this affect your monthly electric bill?

These two factors have a tremendous impact on your electric bill:

  • In the summer months, when the solar projects are generating a ton of electricity, the amount of credits that appear on your utility bill are at their peak for the year.  These credits are nearly always more than enough to compensate for the increased consumption caused by air conditioning running nearly all day.  In fact, most of our subscribers generate an excess of credits causing their electric bills to be in the negative heading into the fall.
  • As the days get shorter the production at the solar farms decline and the excess credits begin to dissipate, and eventually get used up.
  • During the winter months the electricity produced by the solar panels are at their minimum and so there is a correlating decline in the number of credits that all subscribers see on their utility bills.
    • For those who use an alternate form of heating their homes this aligns with their decreased electricity usage.
    • For those who heat their home with electricity their usage goes back up.

That is exactly why we take a close look at each home’s annual electricity usage when we are allotting a system size at the project for which they subscribe.  This report, provided to us by the utility, is called the “historical usage” and it takes all 4 previous seasons into account.  The prior 12 months of electricity usage is the best indicator available to forecast the next 12 months needs.

Keep in mind that the amount of electricity allocated for each home can vary from 50% to 80% of the anticipated need, depending on the terms of the contract that is signed, but there are no circumstances when a home is allocated more than their annual need.

  • There undoubtedly will be months when the amount of electricity generated by the solar panels will be greater than 80% and there will be months when it is far less.
  • But, over the course of 12 months, unless there is a dramatic change in energy consumption over the previous year, the amount of electricity generated will be approximately the percentage outlined in each agreement.  No individual month paints an accurate picture for the entire year..

THE THIRD SECTION is an invitation for you to play a greater role in expanding community solar and possibly earn rewards while doing so:

The success of Neighborhood Sun is directly attributed to a few significant factors:

  • Guaranteed Savings for the life of the contract
  • No equipment to install
  • Only takes minutes to enroll
  • It’s great for the planet!

But the biggest reason for our rapid success is word of mouth from our magnificent customers.   At least 25% of our current subscribers are the result of a subscriber sharing our information with their family, friends and neighbors who share their values.  We frequently run promotions to encourage our satisfied customers to share their discovery with others and we offer additional discounts to those who do it successfully.  Keep your eyes open for our newsletter and other emails that announce these promotions.

Another great source of our success has been our partnerships with neighborhood organizations, small businesses, non-profits and communities of faith.  Read more about our partners and let us know if you know of a potential partner we should reach out to by clicking HERE.

Put a yard sign out for your neighbors to see.  Let everyone know that you’re doing your part to make the air cleaner for future generations.  You can request a yard sign by replying to this email and we’ll get one (or more) out to you.  We’ll know your address from your email address, so simply write “Sign.”

As you find out more about all the great benefits you receive as a Member of Neighborhood Sun we are confident that you are going to want to get more involved.  Countless numbers of our subscribers help us move our mission forward by:

  • Volunteering at one of our community events (once the pandemic is over we will have these quite frequently)
  • Contribute to our BLOG 
  • Share our posts on social media
  • Join our Customer Advocacy Board (CAB) to advocate for your fellow subscribers
  • Give us a 5 Star Review on Google Reviews
  • Invest in our crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder.com and own a part of your clean energy future

We are genuinely proud that you took the leadership to pioneer our growing community and we are looking forward to making the planet a better place with you on our team.

Stay safe and healthy!

The Neighborhood Sun Team