While rooftop solar is a great way to lower your electric bill and support clean energy, it leaves out a key group of people: renters. According to the most recent Census Bureau data from 2019, renters encompass about 36 percent of households in the United States – and that number doesn’t include homeowners who don’t have full control over their roof because they live in a multi-family dwelling. If you fall into this category, the good news is that solutions exist for you to support clean energy, and some will even save you money. In this article, we’ll compare two alternatives to utility electricity: EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace (herein referred to as community solar) and CleanChoice Energy’s Clean Electricity (which we’ll call Clean Electricity).
- Whether you choose community solar or Clean Electricity, you can still feel good about supporting the development of clean energy – but development you’re supporting will likely be more local with community solar
- Typically, you can expect to save anywhere from 5 to 15 percent on your electric bill with community solar, whereas you’ll almost always pay more for Clean Electricity
- You’ll have consolidated billing with Clean Electricity and two bills with community solar
- Third-party energy suppliers like CleanChoice Energy have recently faced criticism from Massachusetts legislators over their lack of transparency
- Want to start saving on your electricity bills? Check out the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace
How does community solar work?
With traditional rooftop solar, you have to physically install solar panels on your roof – but with community solar, you can reap many of the benefits of going solar, without altering your property! Community solar farms are large solar power plants that are owned and operated by solar developers. The renewable energy produced by these farms is distributed throughout the grid and subscribers purchase a share of bill credits for this energy, which offsets their monthly electric bill. On the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace, all you have to do is enter your zip code, and we’ll show you a list of open community solar farms in your area, which you can compare to find the best solution for you. We don’t act as a third-party electricity supplier; rather, we help connect you directly with a solar provider.
How does Clean Electricity work?
If you live in a deregulated electricity market, you might be eligible to purchase electricity through a retail energy provider (REP) that isn’t affiliated with your utility, such as CleanChoice Energy. Essentially, these REPs act as third-party electricity suppliers and offer “green,” “eco-friendly,” or “clean” energy plans. When you subscribe to one of these plans, you’re purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) associated with the generation of the renewable electricity, allowing you to claim the environmental benefit of that electricity. If you use CleanChoice Energy as your REP, 100 percent of the electricity you consume is offset by energy from wind and solar projects.
Community solar through EnergySage vs. CleanChoice Energy
In addition to Clean Electricity, CleanChoice Energy also offers community solar – so how does it compare to EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace? There are three main ways in which these platforms differ:
- Personal information: with EnergySage, you can see all available solar projects and potential savings before inputting any personal information like your phone number or email. With CleanChoice Energy, you’ll have to provide this information first and agree to receive telemarketing before you can see this information.
- Choice: with EnergySage, you’ll be able to compare various community solar farms in your area to find the best option for you, whereas with CleanChoice Energy, they will match you to a solar project.
- Billing: when you subscribe to a community solar farm through EnergySage, you’ll receive bills directly from the community solar provider, not from EnergySage (you’ll also still receive a bill from your utility). With CleanChoice Energy’s community solar, you’ll also receive two bills: one from your utility bill and one from CleanChoice Energy on behalf of your solar provider – thus, CleanChoice Energy acts as your third-party electricity supplier. Essentially, EnergySage cuts out the middleman!
How do community solar & Clean Electricity compare?
While both of these alternative energy options will allow you to support renewable energy, they differ in some key ways. For a more in depth overview of the differences between various alternative energy sources, be sure to check out our article on comparing community solar to clean choice aggregation and green power plans (like CleanChoice Energy) – but below, we’ll go into detail about the differences between EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace and CleanChoice Energy’s Clean Electricity:
1. Cost savings
Probably the biggest – and most important – differentiator between community solar and Clean Electricity is the cost. Generally, with community solar you can expect to see savings anywhere between 5-15 percent on your annual electric costs. On the other hand, with Clean Electricity, you’ll probably pay more than you currently do for electricity.
Let’s use my home as an example. I rent an apartment in Somerville, MA and in October 2021, I paid $47.27 to my utility (Eversource) for electricity.
Looking at my bill, you’ll see I have two main categories of charges: supplier and delivery. The supplier charges cover the cost of the electricity itself, whereas the delivery charges cover the costs of actually bringing the energy to your home.
Over the course of the month, I consumed 174 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity at 10.519 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), totaling $18.30 for the month for my supplier charge. My delivery charges added up to $28.97, for a total bill of $47.27. If we assume I use 174 kWh every month, this equates to $567.24 annually.
Now, when I enter my information for CleanChoice Energy’s Clean Electricity, they quote me 18.4 cents/kWh – according to their website, this cost covers both supplier and transmission charges – which amounts to $32.02 for the entire month. So, looking at my bill, this would cover the $6.13 for my transmission charge, plus the $18.30 for my supplier charge, meaning on top of the $32.02 I’d owe to CleanChoice Energy, I’d still owe $22.84 to my utility for distribution charges. Overall, this adds up to $54.86 monthly or $658.32 annually: a $91.08 premium above what I currently pay to my utility.
On the other hand, when I go through the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace, I can see that I’m eligible for two different community solar farms, both of which include offers for a fixed 10 percent discount on my bill credits, which generally amounts to 5-15 percent in annual savings on my electric bill. These savings are estimated annually because your savings will fluctuate month-to-month depending on how much electricity the community solar farm is generating (expect greater savings during summer months and potentially paying more during winter months). Let’s assume I’ll save at least 5 percent annually with community solar. Doing the math, this means that I’d pay $538.88 annually for electricity.
Cost example for a rental in Somerville, MA
|Type of plan||Estimated annual electricity cost (based on 174 kWh monthly usage)||Annual cost difference from utility|
|Utility only (Eversource)||$567.24||-|
|CleanChoice Energy Clean Electricity||$658.32||+$91.08|
|Community solar through an EnergySage solar provider||$538.88||-$28.36|
2. Support for local renewable energy
Another thing you might want to consider when comparing community solar and Clean Electricity is the local environmental benefit. In the case of Clean Electricity, the actual renewable energy generated to back the RECs you’re buying might not actually come from your state. So, while you’ll still be supporting the development of renewable energy, it might not actually be benefiting your local community – both in terms of air quality and job growth.
However, with community solar, you can be sure that electricity generation that you’re supporting is directly helping your community. Through our Community Solar Marketplace, you’ll be able to see exactly where your community solar farm is located – and it will be in your area, driving the development of lower emission energy sources and job opportunities locally.
If you subscribe to a community solar farm, you’ll likely receive two bills: one from your community solar provider and one from your utility company. Your community solar bill will include charges for the energy generated from your portion of the solar farm. Your provider will then coordinate with your utility company to apply credits for the energy you bought from the solar farm to your electric bill, reducing your overall cost.
In the case of Clean Electricity, you’ll receive just one bill from your utility and will see CleanChoice Energy listed in the supplier charge category of your bill. Thus, you’ll have consolidated billing with CleanChoice Energy.
4. Location & availability
If you’re looking to switch to a clean energy source, you’ll want to make sure that: 1. the source you’re choosing is available in your area, and 2. it’s available in your preferred time frame. As of November 2021, our Community Solar Marketplace has 12 states with community solar farms – however, it’s important to note that you may or may not be eligible for these farms depending on your specific location, or your utility company. You also may need to wait a few months for a solar farm to launch before you start seeing credits (and savings!) on your electric bill.
With CleanChoice Energy’s Clean Energy, you’ll typically see CleanChoice Energy listed on your utility bill within one or two billing cycles of signup. Their Clean Energy is currently available in nine states – but similar to community solar, you may or may not be eligible depending on your utility.
States with available alternative energy plans (as of November 2021)
|CleanChoice Energy Clean Electricity||EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace|
5. Clean energy benefit
While you support the development of clean energy with both community solar and Clean Energy, in both cases your home isn’t actually powered by clean energy – as in, the supply of electricity flowing into your outlets likely still consists primarily of fossil fuels. However, with Clean Energy, you purchase the RECs so you can technically claim your home is powered by renewable energy. On the other hand, with community solar, unless your contract specifically states that you own the RECs from your share of the solar farm, it’s safe to assume you can’t claim the environmental benefit of that electricity.
Can I participate in community solar and Clean Electricity?
In most states, yes! Because you have consolidated billing with CleanChoice Energy, you’ll be able to apply your credits from your community solar farm to your utility bill. Just be aware that because your overall electric bill will be higher from Clean Electricity, you’ll see less savings from community solar.
The controversy of Clean Electricity
One of the biggest grievances with third-party clean electricity suppliers, such as CleanChoice Energy, is the lack of transparency that comes with the plan. In 2021, the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a report analyzing if consumers in Massachusetts are benefitting from these competitive electricity suppliers. The report found that these types of plans prey on eldery and low-income residents, and, on average, result in them losing $241 annually. Other participants lose an average of about $194 annually, according to the report.
Collectively, participants in these plans paid $426 million more between July 2015 and June 2020 than if they had stayed on their utility plan. In an interview with the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, Healey stated, “I can’t sit here today and tell you that this industry brings any benefit to residential customers.” In response to the report, state senators and representatives jointly introduced legislation to bar these third-party electric suppliers from signing up new participants in Massachusetts. The legislation has not passed, but if it does, CleanChoice Energy’s Clean Electricity would no longer be available to Massachusetts residents.
Explore local community solar options today
At EnergySage, we think community solar is a great option for anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to install solar on their property. Thinking about subscribing to a local community solar farm? On our Community Solar Marketplace, you’ll be able to compare the available farms in your area and quickly estimate your potential savings.