Don't want to buy your own solar panels? Here are some alternatives
Getting your electricity from the sun doesn't just mean buying panels. You can also lease them or connect to a community solar field.
While purchasing solar panels upfront might be the most well-known way to get your electricity from the renewable energy source, solar advocates are also spreading the word about alternatives for those who have financial concerns or who don't own their own home.
For those who are hesitant to pay in full now for a solar system, leasing is one zero-dollar out-of-pocket option.
Nicola Brown, a program associate with the Illinois Solar Education Association, said the process of leasing panels is much like leasing a car. Once you get qualified for financing, you have a monthly payment and energy produced by the system offsets your utility bill -- customers can expect to save 15-25% on their monthly bill in a leasing scenario, Brown said.
"Just how cars can have different options that impact pricing, so can a solar array. We'd recommend getting a few proposals from reputable companies and comparing from there," she said. "In most financed scenarios, customers should be expecting to pay $3.50 to $5 per watt."
While the financing and leasing of a system typically go hand in hand, one downside to leasing is you don't receive federal or state tax benefits. Since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August, the federal tax incentive on a purchase is 30%.
A second alternative to buying your own panels is getting your solar power through a community solar subscription, which routes electricity from a shared solar development elsewhere in Illinois.
This is a good option for those who don't own their own home, whose roofs aren't ideal for panels or who simply don't want to deal with having their own panels.
According to the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, what's often called community solar "allows consumers to save money on their electric bills from energy produced by large, off-site community solar projects, similar to how you would save on your electric bill if you installed panels on your own property."
The process works in a subscription format in which you sign up for a "share" of the project's capacity. Your share will look different from month to month, typically higher in the summer and lower in the winter.
To participate in community solar, you have to be an electric customer close enough to a solar installation. To find a development, the Illinois Solar Education Association recommends plugging in your ZIP code and comparing various options at tinyurl.com/ISEACommunitySolar.
The Illinois Power Agency has additional community solar resources available on their website.
Community solar is also a supplemental option for those who already have solar panels but whose system doesn't cover 100% of their electricity usage. For instance, if your solar array covers 80% of your home's energy usage, you can sign up for community solar to cover the leftover 20% -- effectively getting all of your electricity from the renewable resource.