Earlier this year, Boston rolled out their new community choice electricity (CCE) program, the largest community choice aggregation (CCA), or municipal aggregation, initiative in New England. Given the availability of local community solar projects in the Greater Boston area–and given that Boston is EnergySage’s home city!–we get a lot of questions about how some of these subscription options compare to this new program. In this article, we’ll discuss the major differences and similarities between the two options.
- You can save 5-15 percent off your annual electricity costs with a community solar subscription; savings under Boston’s CCE program are not guaranteed
- You don’t have to choose between the CCE program and community solar – you can take advantage of both!
- Finding and subscribing to local community solar options is easy using EnergySage’s Community Solar Marketplace
Comparing community solar to Boston’s CCE program
If you’re an Eversource customer in Boston, community solar and the CCE program both present opportunities to support local renewable energy. But there are a few key differences between the two alternative energy options:
Community solar vs. Boston’s CCE program, summarized
|Alternative energy option||Community solar||Boston's CCE program|
|Supports local renewable energy||Yes||Yes|
|Has consolidated billing||Typically no||Yes|
|Includes environmental claim/"green" benefit||No||Yes|
The majority of community solar projects in the Boston area offer a fixed discount on bill credits. This means when you subscribe to a local community solar project, you’ll lock in a fixed discount on energy you buy from the project, regardless of the current price of electricity. Community solar companies typically offer around 10 percent discount on bill credits, so if your share of the project generates $100 worth of electricity, you’ll pay your community solar provider $90 – but receive a $100 credit on your Eversource bill! While savings will vary from month to month, you should expect to save 5-15% on your annual electricity bill costs.
Savings under Boston’s CCE program are less likely, but still possible depending on the rate you opt-into and what Eversource is currently charging for supply. Generally speaking, municipal aggregation programs can offer competitive rates thanks to the aggregate buying power of all the participants. For Boston’s CCE program specifically, the Optional Basic rate and Standard Default rate plans (more on the plan offerings below!) are less expensive than Eversources’s standard residential rates as of June 2021, but because electricity rates fluctuate based on supply and demand, this may change over time. Additionally, the current savings over Eversource’s rates are smaller than what community solar subscriptions typically offer.
Importantly, if you’re opting into the CCE’s 100% renewable option–the Optional Green 100 rate plan–you should generally expect to pay more for electricity than what Eversource charges. This is pretty common among CCE plans – all-renewable options typically come at a price premium, but may be worth it if your primary motivation for joining a CCE program is the environmental benefit.
All this is to say that most community solar subscriptions offer guaranteed savings, while savings under the CCE program, though possible in some circumstances, won’t be as significant and will fluctuate over time. Fortunately, the City of Boston offers a helpful electricity cost calculator where you can enter in your average monthly electric bill costs and compare rates across Boston’s CCE options, as well as with Eversource’s rates.
Supporting local renewable energy
Looking to support local renewable energy with your electricity choices? If so, subscribing to a local community solar farm is a great choice. Your subscription can provide the buy-in developers need to build more projects throughout the Boston area that will help further decarbonize Eversource’s electricity grid. As a bonus, you’ll know exactly where your purchased energy comes from – and the company that builds or maintains the project probably employs people in your community!
Boston’s CCE program supports local renewable energy, but in a different way. Wrapped into your electricity purchase is a certain amount of renewable energy certificates (RECs) – more if you opt into the Optional Green 100 rate plan, less if you choose the Optional Basic rate plan. The RECs that you buy as a part of your electricity supply most likely come from existing renewable energy projects – and potentially even a local community solar project! Because of this, your renewable electricity purchase isn’t necessarily supporting additional clean energy development in your area, but rather buying the green benefit of projects that have been generating renewable electricity for years.
However, unlike with some CCE programs, there is a local energy aspect to Boston’s offering: the bundled RECs you purchase with your electricity are MA Class I Renewable Energy Certificates, meaning the certificates come from a renewable energy project located in New England as opposed to a wind farm located in Texas.
Before signing up for any electricity alternative, it’s important to understand how it will impact your monthly billing process: will you still receive a bill from Eversource? Will you receive two bills moving forward?
Whether you sign up for community solar, Boston’s CCE plan–or both!–you’ll still receive a bill from Eversource: this is because they own and maintain the infrastructure that delivers electricity to your home. Fortunately, you won’t have to deal with two separate electricity bills if you participate in the CCE plan alone – all charges will be rolled up into your existing Eversource bill, and denoted by a separate line item under “Billing for City of Boston CCE,” or “Constellation NewEnergy Inc.”, the company the City of Boston contracted for electricity procurement.
If you subscribe to a community solar farm, however, you’ll likely receive two separate bills: one from your community solar provider charging you for the energy your share of the project generated, and the other from Eversource. That said, your Eversource bill will be lower (and often even have negative charges) because it will include the credits you purchased from the community solar project.
Want to put a lawn sign outside your property that says “100% powered by renewables”? RECs are key to being able to claim you run your home or business on green electricity (we actually have a whole separate explanation about that in this article.)
Because RECs are included in Boston’s CCE plan, you get to claim the environmental benefit associated with your electricity purchase, though you will be purchasing more or less renewable electricity depending on your rate plan:
Boston's CCE plan options (June 2021)
|Rate plan||% of renewable electricity|
|Optional Green 100||100%|
On the other hand, if you subscribe to a community solar project, it’s unlikely you can claim the “greenness” associated with the electricity generation from the project. While your subscription generally supports local renewable energy development, the owner of the project–either the developer or another investor–typically retains the rights to keep or sell the RECs generated by the project. In fact, the State of Massachusetts warns customers of this in their community solar disclosure forms:
“A Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) represents the Environmental Attributes associated with one megawatt-hour of renewable energy as defined by Massachusetts law. RECs generated by a facility participating in the SMART Program are transferred to the utility company in exchange for the incentive payments made to the facility owner under the program. Therefore, while you are not using the solar power generated by the facility, your purchase of credits does support solar development in Massachusetts and increase the amount of solar energy consumed by all electric ratepayers in the Commonwealth.”
Which alternative electricity option is right for you?
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between one or the other! Boston electricity customers are some of the lucky few that can take advantage of a CCE/CCA plan and community solar at the same time.
Here’s how this works: you’ll receive community solar credits on your bill based on how much energy your share of the solar project generated over a given month. Eversource will apply these credits to your monthly electricity charges – which will be based on how much electricity you used from the grid, Eversource’s delivery charges, and your CCE plan’s supply charges.
It’s the best of both worlds: you can use renewable electricity, support local energy efforts, and save money, all at the same time!
- Community solar vs. CCAs vs. green power plans: comparing alternative electricity options (EnergySage)
- What is community choice aggregation? (EnergySage)
- Common questions about community choice electricity (City of Boston)
- CCE cost calculator (City of Boston)
Explore local community solar options today
Want to compare community solar options in the Boston area? Check out our Community Solar Marketplace, where you can see a list of local community projects and get a quick estimate of potential savings. If there aren’t community solar projects available in your area just yet, sign up to receive updates as new projects go live on our Marketplace.