Austin is a pretty climate conscious city. That’s why for years, our city’s electric utility, Austin Energy, has been providing discounts and rebates to homeowners who install solar panels on their roofs. These programs have not only supported our city’s greenhouse gas emission goals, but also have given regular Austinites the ability to join in the global fight against climate change.
But there has always been a problem. The solar was never truly available to everyone. While the program is technically open to all Austin Energy customers, buying a solar array still comes with high upfront costs, making it unaffordable to many. And then what about renters? Or homeowners with shaded roofs?
In walks the city’s new community solar program. Here’s how it works.
Austin Energy currently operates two community solar sites:
- The Palmer Array (located on top of the Palmer Events Center in south Austin)
- La Loma (located in east Austin at the Kingsbery substation)
Any Austin Energy customer is able to apply to support these projects by becoming a community solar subscriber. Although subscribers’ individual homes will not exclusively receive electricity sent directly from those solar plants (that gets a bit complicated), Austin Energy will ensure that enough local solar is produced to cover 100 percent of their homes’ electricity usage. This allows subscribers to support Austin’s climate goals, as well as the local solar economy.
How much does it cost?
According to Austin Energy, the average community solar subscriber will pay anywhere from $10 to $18 more each month on their electricity bill. This is because they’ll be paying a rate of $0.0427 per kilowatt hour of energy use, as opposed to the $0.03007 in the summer and $0.02936 in the non-summer months that regular customers pay. However, that community solar rate of $0.0427 will be fixed for 15 years, allowing for more stability in those customers’ electricity bills. Regular rates fluctuate seasonally and annually.
This also means that if the regular Austin Energy rate were to rise about $0.0427, the community solar subscribers would actually be saving money.
With help from community activists from the Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association and the Sierra Club, a discount will also be given to low-income Austin Energy customers hoping to join the community solar program. The idea here is to help correct an imbalance in the utility’s current solar incentive programs, which give rebates and funding to homeowners who install solar on their rooftops (and who are more likely to be wealthy and live in west Austin).
Half of the La Loma Community Solar project will be reserved for low-income Customer Assistance Program (CAP) participants. Plus, Austin Energy is offering CAP pricing for the community solar project that is actually lower than the standard Austin Energy rates. That means customers who subscribe for solar will actually be paying less, while supporting the environment. More info>>
How do you apply?
Applying to the community solar program is easy! All you have to do is fill out this form. However, be warned that the program has been so popular that there is already a wait list to sign up (even though it hasn’t even officially come online yet).
But that doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t apply! If you’re really passionate about solar and want to see Austin Energy build more of these community solar projects, then the utility recommends that you fill out the form and apply to be on the wait list. They’ll be using the list to assess demand for future projects.
And if you’re interested in the Customer Assistance Program (CAP) component of the community solar project, you’re in luck because there are still open slots on the list. You can apply here>>