This is Tom Amiro blogging about his personal experience with Community Solar.
Even though I already had solar panels and was in the 100% Greenest option of the Chelmsford Choice electric aggregation program, I signed up with a Community Solar company, Nexamp, to ensure that the electricity powering my all-electric house and cars was not coming from a gas power plant. Also there was the promise it would save me money, although I would have been happy to just break even.
My situation is a bit out of the ordinary, given I have 27 300W panels on my roof that produce about 8.5K kWhs a year. Usually green-minded folks sign up for a solar farm because they can’t have their own solar. I told Nexamp about my panels from the start, so they wouldn’t over size my allocation. It took quite a while for the solar farm to go online. Once it did, the electricity generated by my assigned panels produced net metering credits (negative numbers) on my National Grid (NG) electric bill. There was no indication on the bill about about how the numbers were derived or even that they were related to the solar farm. Of course, I knew Nexamp was responsible. I also started getting bills from Nexamp for the electricity generated from the panels, supposedly at a discount of between 10-15%. The bills had no explanation about how the charges were computed. No way to know what was being discounted. Also I could NOT figure out any way to determine what my cost for electricity was anymore.
When the negative balance on my NG bill began growing too much, I went to my account and tried to see how many panels were allocated. Strange, that information was not available, nor was there any information on how much National Grid was paying Nexamp for the kWhs produced by the solar farm, nor how many kWhs were being generated by my allotted panels. Having had my own panels for 9 years, I was very familiar with net metering. Historically, the net metering credit for my excess production (more kWhs produced in a given day than used) was about 19 cents. That is substantially less than what National Grid charges you for the kWhs you buy from them.
About half way into the year, I called Nexamp and told them I feared it was going to cost me more because I was getting too many net metering credits. and I told them to drastically reduce my panel allocation. It turned out Nexamp had 29.35 panels assigned to me. Its another story about how it wasn’t that easy to get the allocation reduced.
It seemed like simple arithmetic to me. When you produce electricity from your own panels you actually get to use it for free. But when you virtually produce electricity from a solar farm, you don’t get to use it and still have buy what you use from NG. The excess earns the credits at a reduced rate. (Compare 18-21 cent net meter credit to the 27.5 cents per kWh I paid NG per kWh in 2022.) When you get electricity from NG, you pay full price. Now since all net meter credits are at a reduced rate, it stands to reason that if you have too many of them and start using them to buy electricity during the months your solar panel output is much lower, it is going to cost you more.
I couldn’t get any answers from Nexamp to my questions about how much I was paying per kWh with their credits factored in. Not being able to tell what the true costs were as the year progressed, I just waited to get the data for the whole year and compare it to the previous year. I have been keeping a spreadsheet for years on everything related to electricity: production, consumption, costs and rates, etc. So I compiled the data myself for years 2022 and 2023 (when Nexamp kicked in) to compare. After adding up all the money paid to NG and Nexamp and adjusting for an additional 330 kWhs used over the previous year, it cost me $418 more in 2023 than 2022. The rate per kWh bought was 27.47 cents in 2022 versus 32.36 cents in 2023. Some of the increase might be due to NG’s rates going up for distribution, (Note, supply was fixed by Chelmsford Choice for every month but the last one where it went up about 4.5 cents due to the new rates in Chelmsford Choice. So that is negligible.) Looking at the rates for months where money was paid to NG, the rate was hardly higher than 2022, So the increase of almost 5 cents per kWh was mostly due to the payments to Nexamp. Another thing that supports that contention is that the average rate per kWh charged by NG for the 4 years before this last year with Nexamp was 25.9 cents. SO IT IS VERY UNLIKELY the 5 cents jump and over $418 total increase is due to NG. And remember the Community Solar is supposed to save you money.
So with numbers in hand, I called up Nexamp and told them I wanted to cancel my subscription giving them the information presented in this blog. The agent didn’t try to change my mind at all. She didn’t in any way defend Nexamp’s publicized assertion that it saves you money or try to figure out what was going on. SO I CANCELLED!.
I’d be interested in what your experience is with Community Solar. Maybe it saves on carbon emissions, but does it ever save you money? If you don’t have your own solar panels, it should be simpler to decipher your electric bills and it might come closer to breaking even because of the fewer net metering credits. Please comment or send email to email@example.com.