Explore Community Solar

Community Solar (CS) is a large solar project in a specific utility territory shared by multiple subscribers, who receive credits on their utility bills for their share of power generated. Community Solar allows individuals, businesses, schools, and other customers to access clean solar power when it is impractical, too expensive, or otherwise unfeasible to install solar panels on their property. With Community Solar, nothing changes about the electricity flowing into your house from the utility grid, but you earn monetary credits from the system that offset the cost of your electricity bill. You are also supporting the development of clean, renewable energy in Illinois.

In Illinois Shines, CS projects include Traditional Community Solar projects (where the solar project may not be located in or have connections with the subscribers’ community) and Community-Driven Community Solar (CDCS), (projects intended to provide more direct and tangible benefits to, and involvement of, the local community); benefits of CDCS projects include community ownership and wealth-building, additional direct and indirect community benefits, and meaningful project involvement and connection and engagement from community members, nonprofit organizations, or public entities.

community-driven community solar graphic depicting shops and houses all contributing to solar energy

Financial Overview

Community Solar allows many customers to subscribe to a single, large solar project. By subscribing, individual customers offset their own electricity use and costs with a portion of the electricity generated by the community solar system. The project might be located near the customer or many miles away, but it must be in the same utility service territory as the customer.

These large projects require the participation of subscribers, which helps support the development of new solar energy generation in Illinois. Community Solar is not the same as “green” or “renewable” supply offers from an Alternative Retail Electric Supplier, which may rely on renewable energy projects outside Illinois and/or projects that were developed many years ago outside of the Illinois Shines program.  When you subscribe to an Illinois Shines Community Solar project you are supporting newly developed, local solar energy.

When you subscribe to a Community Solar project, you’ll receive credits on your electric bill for your portion of the energy produced by that project.  Through a process called net metering, your electric bill will be credited for your portion of the community solar project’s energy production; with CS projects, customers will pay a subscription fee, either via a separate bill or included within their utility bill.

Choosing a Community Solar Project

Customers will have a choice between different Community Solar subscription offers. It’s important to compare costs and contract terms from Community Solar subscription providers, and to consider whether you prefer and can enroll in a Community-Driven Community Solar Project. The key requirement for a Community Solar subscription is that you must subscribe to a project within your same electric utility service territory.

Illinois Shines helps support customers looking to subscribe to CS projects through a careful screening of Approved Vendors, required use of Disclosure Forms to provide critical subscription and cost information, providing resources and required Program information, and providing consumer protection support if a vendor has potentially violated Program rules. Despite these safeguards, consumers should follow best practices in choosing which vendor to work with:

What Questions Should You Ask?

With so much to consider, it’s important to ask solar vendors a variety of questions. Click a category to see question(s) to consider asking.

Is this a Traditional Community Solar or a Community-Driven Community Solar project? If it’s a Community-Driven Community Solar project, in what ways does the community benefit?

Does your subscription require you to sign up to receive electricity from a new supplier? If so, what will your new electricity rate be? 

How long is the contract term for the subscription?

Are you paying for a subscriber share of particular panels, and if so, are upfront payments required? If you’re taking out a loan to make the payment, what are the loan terms and their impact on your projected reductions?

If your monthly fee is a price per kilowatt-hour basis, how does it compare to the existing rate you pay for electricity?

Can maintenance fees change over the contract term? Does your contract include an escalation clause that increase the amounts of payments over time?

Will you incur a fee if you wish to leave the contract early, including due to relocation?

Is billing electronic with automatic payments required, or are other options available?

What is the size of your subscription or share of the community solar project? Is this the right amount, given how much electricity you typically use? If your contract provides more bill credits than you would use over the course of a year, you may end up paying for credits on your bill that you don’t actually use.

Will you save more through community solar bill credits than you will pay in subscription fees? Compare your subscription’s size and your electricity supply rate (which may change over time) to your subscription’s cost to determine if savings exceed cost.

Illinois Shines requires subscriptions to be portable or transferable. What restrictions or limitations on portability or transferability are included in the terms of your subscription?

Does the offer require you to authorize the community solar provider to act as your agent with respect to your electric utility account? Make sure you understand what changes they can make to your utility account and whether you will still receive bills and notices from your electric utility.