Technicians walking between solar arrays on a solar farm

Many states have seen rapid growth of community solar energy projects. By eliminating many traditional barriers to using renewable energy, these solar farms enable a larger segment of the population to take advantage of solar energy, including low to moderate-income households, renters, condominium owners, and homeowners with shaded roofs.

There were 4.9 gigawatts of community solar installations in the United States, enough to power about 3.7 million homes, as of the writing of this article. Community solar projects give members many of the benefits of solar energy without having an on-site rooftop solar system.

A given community solar farm generates renewable energy for hundreds or even thousands of homes, organizations, and small businesses. Households and companies join a community solar project by subscribing to a portion of the solar farm’s monthly output. Typically, there is no fee for joining or canceling, and you must give around 60 or 90 days’ notice to terminate.

Although 40 states have at least one project online, community solar farms are not evenly dispersed throughout the United States. Instead, the growth of community solar has been highly concentrated in specific states with supportive policies.

Also, electric rates vary across the country, making solar energy more competitive in certain markets. The greater the energy bill savings, the more popular the program. As a result, some states have become hotbeds for community solar farms, while others have experienced sluggish growth.

Currently, 22 states plus Washington D.C. have policies supporting community solar (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington). However, some of these programs are new and just getting off the ground or have limited capacity.

Leading States in Community Solar

Some states have had numerous community solar farms for years, including Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. These states were some of the pioneers of the movement and helped pave the way for others to follow. However, several states have recently created policies encouraging community solar farms’ development.

Colorado

Colorado passed the Community Solar Gardens Act in 2010 and became the first state with a community solar program, paving the way for others to follow. It was designed to include low-income households, and the program remains a leader today.

Illinois

This state is a relative newcomer to the community solar energy movement and recently passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act which aims to create a carbon-free power sector by 2045. Not only does it make utilities accountable, but it also increases funding for renewable energy. In addition, Illinois Shines, a state-administered incentive program, has made this market well primed for significant growth.

Maine

In 2019, legislators passed An Act to Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources in Maine. This eliminated some obstacles to community solar development, and the concept is gaining popularity. As a result, Maine has become a substantial market for community solar, with numerous projects under construction or recently completed.

Maryland

The state began a seven-year community solar pilot program in 2017 for residential and commercial community solar projects. Then, the Clean Energy Jobs Act set a goal to generate 50% of Maryland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The combination has helped encourage development.

Massachusetts

It passed the first version of its community solar program back in 2013 and has had several iterations since. Although it was an early adopter of community solar, it continues to add capacity and subscribers by constructing more solar projects.

Minnesota

It is currently a leading market for community solar installations, with 834 megawatts of installed capacity as of December 2021. Although this ownership structure is not new here, there are a lot of projects under development, giving households more options than ever before.

New Jersey

Legislation passed in 2018 that created the state’s first community solar program, and this pilot program is now in its second year. Combined with a strong Renewable Portfolio Standard, the Garden State is primed for substantial growth in this market.

New York

The community solar movement started with the Shared Renewables program in 2015. Later, the NY-Sun initiative and Reforming the Energy Vision plan have helped make this a leading state for community solar energy development, with 731 megawatts of installed community solar capacity.

Rhode Island

The creation of the community virtual net metering policy in 2016 set this market into motion. As a result, there are now numerous community solar farms either in operation or in the pipeline.

How To Find a Community Solar Farm

Because development has been uneven, some states have no community solar farms or only a few that are already fully enrolled. However, if you live in certain states, you might have your pick of community solar farms to join.

One of the best resources for finding a project in your area is the EnergySage community solar database. You can enter your location to find out about available projects within your utility district.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.