Journal reporter Jennifer Yos asked the questions so you don’t have to.
LANSING, Ill. (August 29, 2023) – Lansing homeowners and renters now have an opportunity to save on their electric costs by “going solar” — without installing solar panels on their homes or rentals.
Through Solstice — a company that facilitates community solar by matching subscribers with local community solar farms, and through Illinois Shines — an Illinois state incentive program that supports the development of solar energy in Illinois, homeowners and renters alike can save on their electric costs by registering to become a community solar farm subscriber.
How it works
A community solar farm subscriber can be any homeowner or renter who currently has ComEd or Ameren as their provider. There are no fees to subscribe. Subscribers agree to Solstice assigning them a share of solar panels at a local community solar farm based on their monthly energy use. Whatever energy is produced by those panels is then sold to the subscriber at a discounted rate through community solar energy credits on their electric bill.
Subscribers are not responsible for solar panel construction, repairs, or maintenance, and their utility provider —ComEd or Amerens — remains the same. ComEd and Ameren apply community solar bill credits to the supply charges only, until November, 2023. Any unused credits roll over to the next month, and a subscriber can unsubscribe at any time without penalty.
Solstice Community Solar registration
During the online solstice.us registration, subscribers are asked to disclose their total annual household income. Some subscribers will be eligible for Illinois Solar for All: Community Solar Program if their annual household income is 80% or less of the area median income (AMI); they can see a 50%-60% discount on their electric costs. Subscribers with household annual incomes greater than 80% of the AMI can save up to 20%.
Solstice also requests a copy of the subscriber’s most recent electric bill to ascertain their monthly kilowatt electric usage. That information determines what share of community farm solar panels the subscriber will need.
Additional incentives to subscribe include a $50 Visa sign-up bonus, and $50 for the Village of Lansing by entering the code lansingil. Potential subscribers can visit solstice.us to learn more and to register.
Illinois target: 100% clean energy by 2050
Solstice and the Illinois Shines program both support the State of Illinois goal to have 40% of its energy come from renewable energy sources such as solar by 2030; 50% by 2040; and 100% clean energy by 2050. The programs were developed not only to promote environmental benefits, but also to stimulate the economy and offer financial benefits for the subscribers.
According to the Illinois Power Agency, Illinois Shines was developed under the Future Energy Jobs Act and implemented by the IPA “to help Illinois meet its renewable energy goals and encourage solar installations across the state, regardless of income.”
Solar developers and contractors participating in the Illinois Shines program are vetted and approved by the IPA Program Administrator and must meet rigorous program requirements. They are required to give consumers a standard Disclosure Form, which gives consumers clear information about the system and their transaction.
Solstice staff answer questions
The registration process entails reading detailed information and legal contracts that may initially seem daunting for some subscribers, but Solstice Content Marketing Manager Mary Jackson recently answered the following questions about details of the program for The Lansing Journal and assures potential subscribers that “the Solstice sales team can walk you through every step of the process — online or over the phone.”
What are the specific requirements for eligibility to become a solar farm subscriber?
The eligibility requirements vary depending on which program you join. Solstice has programs ranging from 20-60% savings, with higher discounts being more stringent in their eligibility requirements. To join our income-restricted projects which offer the greatest discounts at up to 50-60%, participants must verify as 80% or less of their Area Median Income (AMI). The AMI varies by household size and geography. Prospective enrollees can check if their household meets the AMI qualifications on our website: Explore Community Solar – Solstice. Any Illinois household with ComEd or Ameren as their utility can join a 20% discount Solstice project.
Is it possible for a subscriber to see a copy of the Community Solar agreement before actually committing to signing up? Is the agreement or any parts of the agreement subject to change at any time?
Our contracts will not change and allow participants to cancel their subscription at any time with no cancellation fees or hassle. Customers will never be asked to enroll until they have been shown and have agreed to the terms of their community solar agreement.
When I typed in Lansing’s 60438 zip code on solstice.us and chose ComEd as my utility provider, the Verduin Solar Farm came up. Is this currently the only solar farm available to potential Lansing subscribers?
We have multiple projects that Lansing subscribers can join. Our website selects one that matches you to an eligible project with open capacity. When you enroll on Solstice’s platform, you will be automatically assigned the project that gives you the most savings based on your own eligibility criteria.
The Verduin Solar Farm info says estimated savings are 20–50% on electric supply costs. How is the exact percentage determined for an individual subscriber? What are the criteria for the variable rates?
These rates are dependent on the type of program for which you are eligible. Our 50%+ programs are for income-qualified households only. Because this program’s savings are so high, it is reserved for households that have the highest energy burden and can use those savings most. All other participants are eligible for a 20% discount rate. The good news is that we just about always have a program we can get you into, and the Solstice sales team can walk you through every step of the process — online or over the phone.
Is the “set guaranteed discount rate” good for the life of the subscription or does it ever change?
Your guaranteed savings rate is locked in for as long as you keep your subscription and will not change. These savings are reflected on your bill as solar credits. Your electric bill can still fluctuate, but you will always be receiving the same discount on your credits, and you’ll always be paying less with community solar than you would pay without it.
It also says there is a $50 enrollment bonus when a subscriber officially joins. Does that bonus not only go to the subscriber, but also to the Village of Lansing ($50 to each)?
That’s correct! We believe everyone should benefit from renewable energy. When people enroll, we match their enrollment bonus and give it to the town. Our mission goes beyond just providing energy. We want to make a real impact on the communities our projects serve. When someone decides to use renewable energy with Solstice, their choice becomes a gift to their town — funding sustainable improvements like implementing solar-powered street lights or funding new programs. The enrollment match is a way clean energy can connect Solstice and residents alike with the communities we serve.
I understand that Solstice assigns a share of panels based on the subscriber’s typical monthly usage. Is ”typical monthly usage” based on average usage over the past 12 months? If so, what happens if a subscriber’s yearly usage increases or decreases from one year to the next? Can solar panel shares ever be increased or decreased? If so, how and when?
That is correct: we base subscribers’ solar shares on their last 12 months of electricity usage. Annually or biannually we review allocations and adjust subscribers’ shares up or down to make sure they match their latest energy use.
Regarding the quote, “As a subscriber, you’ll only ever be asked to pay for the energy your panels create”: What if a subscriber’s panels create more energy in a year than is actually used by the subscriber? Do credits carry over from one year to the next? Do they ever expire?
Credits do carry over from month to month. Subscribers’ solar shares are sized to match their annual average energy use. Since solar panels produce more energy during summer months, however, they will likely earn excess credits during those months. These will be rolled over onto winter months’ bills to make up the gap when solar panels aren’t producing as much energy. Subscribers will not be asked to pay for solar credits that aren’t applied to their bills, so they will never be asked to pay more with community solar than they would without it.
According to solstice.us, Verduin Solar Farm has enough energy to power around 410 homes and currently has 374 openings. From what area(s) are the current 36 subscribers? From what area(s) are remaining openings eligible?
The Verduin Solar Farm and other projects open to Lansing residents are available specifically to ComEd customers, meaning subscribers come from Northern Illinois, particularly Chicagoland. That is the area that ComEd, the electric company, serves, and the grid to which these projects connect.
Is the Verduin farm currently completed and in operation or is it still under construction? If it is still under construction, when is the estimated time it will be completed and operating?
The Verduin Solar Farm is currently under construction and is set to energize (turn on) at the end of this year! When it comes to solar farms, most developers want to have the farms filled before they are energized so that the energy produced is immediately used by residents.
Do you know if ComEd consolidates its billing with Solstice?
Yes, we are thrilled that savings are applied directly to your ComEd bill. Your savings will be locked in at your project’s discount rate, and you will never receive a separate bill from Solstice. Everything is bundled up and you don’t have to worry about a thing. This makes the savings that much sweeter!
Initially the Solstice home page matched my zip code (60438) with Verduin community solar farm in Chicago Heights, IL, but after I entered my income, a farm in Monee, IL, appeared as my assigned solar farm. Why isn’t it Verduin? Can you tell me if the Monee Solar Farm is completed and running or not?
The Verduin Solar Farm in particular is only available to income-qualified residents through Illinois’ Solar For All program. Our marketing site may have inaccurately suggested you could join it before asking for income details. When you went through the formal signup process and entered your income, our software platform deemed you eligible for the Monee Solar Farm, which has a lower discount (20%), but is available to households of any income with ComEd as their utility company. The Monee Solar Farm is set to energize in winter 2023.
If I were to sign up today, when would my new energy rate begin? Will it begin once my assigned farm is up and running?
Your subscription fee [your discounted energy rate] does not start until your farm is energized (turned on) and you receive your first bill. The Monee Solar Farm is set to energize in winter 2023. You will receive regular updates from our customer success time between now and then on its progress.
- Utility assistance available to low-income households in Illinois (March 31, 2022)