Frequently Asked Questions
Approved Vendors and Installers
Yes, there are two requirements for distributed generation installation in Illinois. The first is a company level requirement that Distributed Generation Installers be certified by the Illinois Corporation Commission (ICC). Details of this requirement can be found at the ICC’s Distributed Generation Installer page. A list of Certified Distributed Generation Installers can be found here. Any questions about this requirement should be directed to the ICC which oversees this program.
Additionally, installation of a photovoltaic system, if it will seek a REC contract under the Adjustable Block Program, must be done by a Qualified Person as defined under 83 Ill. Adm. Code § 468.20, which covers the qualifications required of the individuals who are actually installing the system.
A system applying for the Adjustable Block Program can only be self-installed if the individual installing the system is a Qualified Person which is defined under 83 Ill. Adm. Code § 468.20 as:
“Qualified person” means a person who performs installations on behalf of the certificate holder and who has either satisfactorily completed at least five installations of a specific distributed generation technology or has completed at least one of the following programs requiring lab or field work and received a certification of satisfactory completion: an apprenticeship as a journeyman electrician from a DOL registered electrical apprenticeship and training program; a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) distributed generation technology certification program; an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) distributed generation technology certification program; an Electronics Technicians Association (ETA) distributed generation technology certification program; or an Associate in Applied Science degree from an Illinois Community College Board approved community college program in solar generation technology.
Please see Section 4 of the Program Guidebook for the full requirements to install a Distributed Generation System.
Another Approved Vendor could obtain the rights to your project’s Adjustable Block Program REC contract, but only with the consent of your original Approved Vendor. See Section 6.7 of the Approved Plan
Some Approved Vendors are installers, but some Approved Vendors are aggregators who manage RECs, or have a different business model. However, every Illinois Shines PV system will ultimately have an Approved Vendor associated with it, even if you only deal with an installer. The disclosure that your installer provides to you will name the Approved Vendor. The Approved Vendor is ultimately responsible for ensuring that consumer protections are met and that RECs from your system are delivered.
The Program Administrator of Illinois Shines, acting on behalf of the Illinois Power Agency, has an application process in which a vendor can submit information about its business in order to become “Approved” if it meets program qualifications and requirements.
A list of Approved Vendors participating in Illinois Shines can be found here. You can contact the installers directly; if an Approved Vendor is not an installer, they may be able to refer you to an installer acting on their behalf. You should shop around, get a few quotes, read consumer reviews if available, and consider the transaction carefully before entering into any installation contract.
A list of community solar projects that have opted to be listed publicly is posted on the Illinois Shines website here. Please keep in mind that projects that are in development and have not yet applied to and been approved by the Adjustable Block Program will not appear on the list. Also keep in mind that some of the projects here may already be fully subscribed. This list will be updated as projects opt to be added.
- You must first enroll in virtual net metering in relation to your subscription share of the community solar system. (Your community solar provider will facilitate that enrollment for you.) Under virtual net metering, if you are subscribed to 1% of a community solar system, you will be credited on your monthly utility bill for 1% of a recent month’s production (in kilowatt-hours) from the community solar system. Production will fluctuate slightly from month to month.
- The monetary value of this net metering credit is based on the energy supply charge that you regularly pay – either a default supply rate to your utility or a custom supply rate that you pay to an alternative retail electric supplier. In other words, the credit equals the recent month’s community solar production share in kilowatt-hours, multiplied by the energy supply rate.
- In addition to the monetary value of net metering, you are getting the knowledge that you are contributing to the development of new solar power generation in Illinois, helping the growth of cleaner electricity production in our state.
There may be some lag time for completion of construction and energization of the project after you sign the subscription contract. Your community solar provider should be able to keep you updated about the status. When the community solar project begins producing energy, your net metering credits on your electric utility bill should begin a few weeks thereafter, and your subscription payments to the project will likely begin around the same time.
Under state law and the Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan, subscriptions to community solar projects must be portable (i.e., the subscriber may retain the subscription while changing locations within the same utility service territory) and transferable (i.e., a subscriber may assign or sell the subscription to another person within the same utility service territory). The Adjustable Block Program requires that the community solar provider may not charge a fee for transferring your subscription to someone else. These rights of transferability and portability may still be subject to other restrictions, including the community solar provider’s right to check a new subscriber’s credit score, and the utility’s right to ensure that a subscription is appropriately sized relative to the subscriber’s usage.
Consumer Protections and Illinois Shines
The Agency requires the following documents to be provided to all customers by Approved Vendors participating in the program to ensure strict consumer protections.
- Disclosure Forms: The Agency, along with the Program Administrator, will create standard Disclosure Forms for the Approved Vendors to provide to each program participant before the execution of a contract for on-site system installation or for a community solar subscription. There will be different disclosure forms depending on the contract structure.
- Contract Requirements: A list of contract requirements will be developed by the Agency and its Program Administrator for the Approved Vendors. Your installation contract or community solar subscription contract must cover all of the terms in this list.
- Brochure: The Agency will require Approved Vendors to give program participants a consumer protection brochure prior to the execution of the contract with the program participant. This brochure will be in both print and electronic form and will inform consumers of their rights, procedures for filing complaints, and refer to more information on the program website.
- To further ensure consumer protection, Approved Vendors must also agree to provide sales and marketing information, including contract prices and sales volumes, to the Agency on a confidential basis. The Program Administrator will act on behalf of the Agency to review these marketing materials to ensure that Approved Vendors are acting in good faith.
No. The project approval is location-specific.
Another Approved Vendor could obtain the rights to your Illinois Shines REC contract, but only with the consent of your original Approved Vendor.
There are two ways you can participate in Illinois Shines:
- You may host a new solar photovoltaic system on your rooftop or on your property, directly offsetting your energy usage; or
- You may participate as a subscriber to a community solar project—a large, centralized solar project for which you “subscribe” to a share of its output.
All applications will need to be submitted through an Approved Vendor. The Program opened for applications on January 30, 2019.
The Community Solar Groups/categories are completely filled (though still accepting new project applications) and subject to a very long waitlist.
All Distributed Generation Groups/categories currently have available capacity remaining. Please find the current status of each Group/category on the Adjustable Block Program Block Capacity Dashboard page.
- All applications will have to be entered by an Approved Vendor.
- For small systems that have already been built (and energized after June 1, 2017), if your installer does not become an Approved Vendor, or work with an Approved Vendor, you will need to choose an Approved Vendor from the Approved Vendor list to apply on your behalf once the program opens for project applications. Each Approved Vendor may offer you different terms and you should choose carefully.
- Systems will have to comply with all Program terms and conditions, which may require retroactive adjustments to the system or agreements with the installer. Systems in the Adjustable Block Program must have been installed by an individual who is a “Qualified Person” as defined in Section 16-128A of the Illinois Public Utilities Act and Title 83, Part 468 of the Illinois Administrative Code.
No, you are not required. You can indicate to your installer that you do not wish to participate in Illinois Shines; additionally, if you want to keep the RECs from your PV system or sell them outside the Illinois Shines program, you can seek to negotiate that with your installer. However, the funding available through Illinois Shines is likely to make a system installed under the umbrella of this program more affordable than if not.
Currently, projects located in a rural electric cooperative, municipal electric utility, or the Mt. Carmel Public Utility Company territory are permitted to participate in the program. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed this determination in May 2019, although the appellate process may not be completed yet. Neither the IPA nor its Program Administrator can speculate on any possible changes to this current determination. We will provide additional details on this issue as they become available in the Updates section of www.IllinoisShines.com, which you can subscribe to by entering your email address in the “Get email updates” box at the bottom of any page on the website.
By law, the Illinois Shines program must produce 1 million RECs annually by the end of the 2020-2021 delivery year, then 1.5 million RECs by the end of 2025-2026, and 2 million RECs by the end of 2030-2031. The first 1 million RECs are expected to be delivered through the Illinois Shines program through a REC contract selection process starting in 2019, as per Illinois Commerce Commission-approved Long Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan. Following this, the Illinois Power Agency will select contracts for at least the first incremental 500,000 annual Illinois Shines RECs and then the second incremental 500,000 annual Illinois Shines RECs. The Plan governing the Illinois Shines program will be updated in late 2019, with the changes taking effect in January 2020.
Under Illinois law, net metering is available to any retail customer that “owns or operates solar, wind, or other eligible renewable energy generating facility with a rated capacity of not more than 2,000 kilowatts that is located on the customer’s premises and is intended primarily to offset the customer’s own electrical requirements.” 220 ILCS 5/16-107.5. Small customers, such as homeowners and small business owners, may receive a one-for-one kWh credit for the net electricity supplied to their utility at the retail rate – that is, for both distribution and supply charges. Non-residential customers, as well as owners and developers of community renewable generation projects, have the option to apply for a rebate equal to $250 per kilowatt of the nameplate capacity of the solar project; these customers are not eligible to receive retail rate net metering. Under Illinois law, upon the date that installed net metering capacity reaches a certain threshold – 5% of the total peak demand supplied by that utility provider in the previous year – the net metering landscape in the utility’s territory will change and retail rate net metering will no longer be available for new net metering customers who would otherwise qualify.
Ameren Illinois has somewhat unexpectedly notified the Illinois Commerce Commission (the State agency charged with approving Ameren’s tariffs) that is has reached this 5% threshold and, as a result, otherwise-qualified new customers who apply for net metering service will not receive retail rate net metering, but rather, supply-only net metering. Eligible customers who apply for the $250/kW rebate will continue to receive that rebate until a new rebate value is determined in a Commission-approved proceeding. This notification has spurred a flurry of legal filings, including by the solar energy industry and environmental advocates seeking for retail rate net metering to continue until the matter is fully investigated.
The Commission, which has exclusive jurisdiction over the matter of utility net metering, has opened investigations (1) into Ameren’s net metering rider (Rider NM), to determine whether Ameren has met the 5% threshold and is appropriately ending retail rate net metering, and (2) into the process and formula for calculating the value of distributed generation rebates on a going-forward basis. The Commission has ordered the investigation into Rider NM to be completed by early November; until that time, the IPA understands that retail rate net metering is not available for new, otherwise-qualifying Ameren net metering customers. The investigation to determine successor distributed generation rebate values is expected to be completed in the spring of 2021.
At this time, these ongoing investigations have no immediate impact on net metering in the Commonwealth Edison territory. Additionally, the IPA understands that customers who already receive retail rate net metering from Ameren Illinois will continue to receive credits at that amount. As the IPA has no jurisdiction over Ameren Illinois or its tariffs, any questions regarding the availability of new or continuing net metering credits should be directed to Ameren. The IPA will update this FAQ as additional information becomes available with respect to the status of net metering rebates.
The most common options are 1) buying the system, 2) leasing the system, or 3) signing a Power Purchase Agreement (“PPA”). If you lease or sign a PPA, you don’t own the system, but you get many of the benefits. For more information visit the CESA website. When deciding on the best option for you, consider:
- If you’re buying the system, how much will it cost? Will you take out a loan to pay for it? How do the loan payments compare to projected reductions in your monthly electric bill?
- If you’re leasing, how much is your monthly lease payment? How does that compare to projected reductions in your monthly electric bill? Do you have to put money down at the start?
- If you’re signing a PPA, how much is the per kilowatt hour price for the energy produced? How does that compare to your current electricity rate? Do you have to put money down at the start?
- Does your lease or PPA include an escalation clause that increases the amount of payments over time? If so, by how much do payments increase?
Billing and payments will be handled between you and your solar provider; it will not be through your regular electric utility bill. Net metering credits, however, will be credited on your utility bill.
If you are in the service territory of ComEd or Ameren Illinois, and if you are a non-residential customer who installs an on-site PV system with a smart inverter, you can receive a one-time rebate payment of $250 per kilowatt DC from the utility. You can find resources to learn more about application procedures for the rebate from ComEd or Ameren Illinois here. This rebate payment is separate from REC payments under Illinois Shines, or net metering credits.
Please note that receiving a smart inverter rate may impact how you are credited for net metering. You should review the terms and conditions of the rebate carefully to decide if it right for your business.
You are not guaranteed to save money unless your contract includes an explicit guarantee. The questions below will affect whether you save money. You can answer some questions yourself, while others can be answered by your installer or sales agent.
- What per kilowatt-hour rate are you currently paying for electricity? The higher the electricity rate before you go solar, the more money you can potentially save.
- Is your roof suitable for solar panels? The direction your roof faces and how much shade it gets will affect how much electricity roof mounted PV will generate. The roof’s condition should also be considered.
- How much electricity will the system generate? If your system produces more electricity than you use over an annual period, you may not receive credit for all the electricity generated.
- How much money will you receive for RECs? The Approved Vendor will be paid by a utility for your system’s RECs and may use some of that money to reduce your cost of going solar.
- Can you use the federal Investment Tax Credit? If you buy your system, you may qualify for a substantial federal income tax credit. Consult your tax adviser.
- How long do you expect to stay in your home or business location? If you lease or sign a PPA, you may be required to buy out the contract if you move. Read your contract to find out what happens if you move.
Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)
RECs represent the environmental value of the electricity generated from solar panels, but not the electricity itself. Whoever owns the RECs has the right to say they used that solar power. Utilities must purchase RECs to meet their obligation to supply a certain amount of power from renewable energy. RECs can also be valuable to businesses seeking to be able to say that they use solar power. A home PV system might generate 50-200 RECs over 15 years. By participating in Illinois Shines, you will transfer the RECs from your PV system to an Illinois electric utility. Selling your RECs will not affect your PV system’s production or your net metering credits. For more information on RECs, see a video at https://vimeo.com/113250210
The final REC prices can be found in section 6.4 of the Approved Plan.
Although you can keep your RECs or sell them to someone besides utilities, participating in Illinois Shines and thus allowing your RECs to be sold to a utility is likely to be your best financial option. Selling your RECs through this program will make it more likely that your PV system will save you money.
Generally, the REC transfer will happen automatically, and your Approved Vendor will take care of the details between it and the utility that purchases the RECs. The REC payments may affect the economic terms of your installation transaction, however; you should discuss that with your installer and/or Approved Vendor. As always, feel free to shop around and consider carefully among installers and/or Approved Vendors before making a final decision.
By state law, the funds come from the ratepayers of large electric utilities in Illinois. Every utility customer contributes funds through a dedicated rider for renewable energy resources on the monthly electric bill. A utility will use these funds to purchase RECs from your Approved Vendor.
In most cases, your Approved Vendor will apply to the Illinois Shines program for REC funding soon after you sign the contract, and a decision on the project’s application will be made a few weeks after that. Your Approved Vendor should be able to keep you updated on the status. Please note that because of expected high initial demand after the program opens on January 30, 2019 processing times may take longer.
When applying to Illinois Shines for REC funding, the Approved Vendor will submit a production estimate based on your system’s size and specifications (to be approved by the Program Administrator), and the 15-year REC payment will be based on this amount. Feel free to discuss this before signing a contract with your Approved Vendor.
If the system produces more than contracted under the REC Contract, the Approved Vendor gets no extra REC payments. If the system is producing less than contracted under the REC Contract, the Approved Vendor might be required to give some portion of REC payments back; check your agreement to understand if that has any implications for you.
Factors determining the adequacy of your roof include its physical condition; the direction it faces; its angle; and any obstructions that cause shade to fall on the system, such as nearby trees. Potential installers can help investigate these issues and advise you on whether solar makes sense for you.
A basic list of approvals is as follows:
- Before installation, you will probably need to get a permit from your local municipality. Talk to your local municipal government (or your installer may do this on your behalf).
- After installation, you will probably need an official from your local municipality to inspect and approve the work.
- You will need to apply to interconnect the system to your electric utility’s distribution system (or your installer may do this on your behalf). Information about that process can be found here.
- In order to receive the full economic benefit of your PV system, you will need to apply to your electric utility or to your alternative retail electric supplier (if you have one) to enroll in net metering. Information about net metering and the application process can be found here.
Net metering measures the electricity your PV system produces and credits you for it on your electric bill. If you buy electricity from your utility (e.g., basic service or hourly pricing), you must contact the utility to enroll in net metering. If you buy electricity from a Retail Electric Supplier (e.g., through municipal aggregation or an individual contract), you must contact the supplier to enroll in net metering. If you later change your electricity supplier, you will need to re-enroll in net metering with your new supplier. Failure to enroll or re-enroll may significantly impact the value you receive from your PV system.