Home | Blog

Solar for Renters

Last Updated April 22, 2024

Share The Knowledge:
Michael Jones

By Michael Jones

Michael literally wrote the book on solar (it’s called The Homeowners’ Guide to Going Solar) and has been a solar consultant for over four years.

Massachusetts community solar farm

Even as access to renewable energy continues to grow all across the Cape, there is still one huge population of Cape Codders who can’t benefit from rooftop solar. People who don’t own their homes.

Almost 20,000 housing units in Barnstable County are occupied by renters, who have no legal right to enter into the kind of solar agreements required to put panels on their roofs. 

The solution for those people is community solar, or solar for renters as some people have taken to calling it. 

In this article, we’ll explain how community solar works and walk you through the pros and cons. We’ll help you to figure out whether solar for renters could be right for you and explain how you can go about signing up for a community solar program near you.

What is Solar for Renters

Community solar is described by some as a democratized version of rooftop solar. It typically involves mid-sized solar farms – 5 to 7 megawatts – that are larger than rooftop systems but much smaller than those giant utility-scale projects.

Unlike rooftop solar panels that exclusively serve the building beneath them, community solar farms feed their generated electricity straight into the power grid. Customers can subscribe to a small section of the farm – yes, just like Netflix – and, while they don’t directly receive the electrons that the farm produces, they do get an equivalent credit on their power bill that amounts to anywhere from a 5%-20% discount.

Gone are the days when environmentally conscious consumers had to pay a premium for switching to renewable energy.

There are over 30 community solar farms on Cape Cod providing solar for renters for thousands of residents
There are over 30 community solar farms on Cape Cod providing solar for renters for thousands of residents

Community Solar in Massachusetts

As with most things solar, Massachusetts is one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to community solar. It’s been that way since the passage of the Green Communities Act in 2008. 

The law created a nurturing atmosphere for green initiatives but also established important guidelines on virtual net metering, enabling electricity customers to earn credits from power produced at community solar farms.

This encouraged broader participation from consumers, which in turn led to move farms being built. Now the Bay State is home to more than 200 active projects, over 30 of which are on Cape Cod.

Why Solar for Renters is Not Just for Renters

It’s not just renters who can benefit from community solar. Homeowners are also candidates if they either can’t or don’t want to install panels on their roof. There are a number of reasons why rooftop solar might not work, even fpr people who own their own homes.

Not Enough Sun

Despite its wide open dunes and beaches, Cape Cod is not as sun-drenched as most people think it is. The residential areas where most locals live are often shaded by trees.

In some instances, these trees can be cleared away but cutting trees is expensive, and often prohibited if they’re growing on adjacent conservation land.

Expensive Home Upgrades

Before any home can go solar, an evaluation by the solar company is required. The purpose is to check to see if the roof and electrical panel are suitable and, if not, certain upgrades may be required. If the cost of these upgrades exceeds the financial benefits of going solar, community solar might be a better option.

HOA and Zoning Restrictions

Cape Cod takes immense pride in its historical districts and charming houses, and has implemented various regulations to preserve this heritage. Notably, the Old Kings Highway Historic District often prohibits or significantly limits homeowners from installing rooftop solar panels if they’re visible from the street.

Similarly, local neighborhoods such as Great Island in Yarmouth or New Seabury in Mashpee have homeowners associations that either restrict rooftop solar installations or mandate specific roofing materials—both of which can effectively hinder such projects.

In scenarios where neighborhood rules or historical preservation efforts prevent roof-mounted panels, community solar offers an alternative pathway to adopting solar energy.

High Electricity Consumption

Even homeowners who are able to install rooftop solar may find that it doesn’t fully cover their electricity needs. This situation is particularly applies to people who heat their homes with electricity. While that was once uncommon on Cape Cod, mini-split systems are starting to gain popularity.

Home heating and the growing use of electric vehicles could mean that even a roof that is fully decked out with solar panels might still fall short of fulfilling the increased electrical demands of a modern home.

Community solar can bridge this gap by guaranteeing that any additional power needs are met with affordable, renewable sources.

Pros of Community Solar

Solar for renters offers a number of advantages over both rooftop solar and the status quo of sticking with Eversource:


A typical Cape Cod electricity customer can expect to save around $200 per year by subscribing to a community solar farm. That discount off prevailing electric rates is usually locked in for at least a decade. 

Low-to-moderate income households and customers who are on Eversource’s R2 assistance program can expect to save twice as much. 

What’s more, the monetary value of those discounts will grow over time as both electricity rates and your own electricity usage increase.

No Upfront Cost

When you purchase solar panels for your roof, there is a substantial upfront cost that has to be covered with either cash or a solar loan. Yes, there are certain tax benefits that soften that cost, but you’re still looking at a likely investment of tens of thousands of dollars.

No Long-Term Commitment

Yes, you can get panels installed with no upfront cost, but only by signing a 25-year power purchase agreement. It’s often a great deal for the customer but some people get spooked at the thought of making such a long term commitment. Joining a solar farm is a subscription you can walk away from at any time. 

First, it’s a win for the customer because they save money. It’s also a win for the farm’s developers, for whom the subscribers provide the project’s economic underpinnings. Then it’s a win for the utility company, which has mandates to add more renewable energy to the grid (It’s now cheaper to build new solar than to operate old fossil fuel plants)​. And, of course, it’s a win for the planet.

Everyone Qualifies

Not everyone qualifies for rooftop solar. Besides having to own the house, you need to get enough sun, have a roof and electrical panel that are up-to-scratch and you’ll need a credit score that’s higher than 650. Solar for renters has no such barriers to entry.

Done right, solar for renters can be a win, win, win, win.

First, it’s a win for the customer because they save money. It’s also a win for the farm’s developers, for whom the subscribers provide the project’s economic underpinnings. Then it’s a win for the utility company, which has mandates to add more renewable energy to the grid (It’s now cheaper to build new solar than to operate old fossil fuel plants)​. And, of course, it’s a win for the planet.

Cons of Community Solar

But it’s not all roses in the community solar garden. There are certain disadvantages.

Smaller Savings

It’s unlikely that your savings will be higher than what you could save by installing rooftop solar. In terms of potential savings, you’ll likely save the most by buying a rooftop system outright, next most by signing a PPA and the least by signing up to a community solar farm.

But you’ll still save more than by sticking with Eversource.

Confusing Billing

Billing is one area where community solar really does have room for improvement. Customers typically receive two distinct bills. Some states, like New York and Illinois, have implemented consolidated billing, enabling the inclusion of community solar credits on a single utility bill. 

Massachusetts promises to do the same soon, but we’re not there yet. So customers can expect to get two bills, one detailing what you “owe” to Eversource, which doesn’t have to be paid, and another detailing the lesser amount that you owe to the solar farm developer, which does. 

Yes, I know. Needlessly confusing.

How to Sign Up for Massachusetts Community Solar

We’re fortunate to live in a state with a robust community solar market, subscribing for us is easy. 

First of all, there are half-a-dozen Massachusetts community solar projects listed on the Energy Sage Community Solar Marketplace. It is worth noting though that companies pay to be listed there so there may be others who are not listed because they choose not to pay.

Meanwhile, the Cape Cod Solar Guys have partnered with Think Energy, which is rapidly becoming one of the leading players in the community solar space. We would be happy to explain their program further and get you signed up. 

We do receive a commission if you sign up through our link, but that’s not why we endorse them. We endorse them because we like the way they do business and we think they’ll take great care of you.

Final Thoughts on Solar for Renters

Solar for renters is set to become the next big thing in the solar industry. In the rooftop space, we typically tell people that only about 30% of the people we speak to can expect to qualify for rooftop solar. Community solar is for the remaining 70%.

The financial benefits of community solar are pushing the sector to unprecedented levels of growth. From 2016 to 2019, the capacity for community solar quadrupled, surging to 1.4 gigawatts. 

According to projections by energy research firm Wood Mackenzie, this figure is now close to 6 gigawatts, and the Department of Energy has set an ambitious goal of powering 5 million homes with community solar by 2025.

So if you don’t own your home, or if rooftop solar just doesn’t work for you. Community solar is a great way to both save money and help the environment.

If you would like to join one of Think Energy’s community solar programs, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to walk you through your options.

Back to Massachusetts Community SolarBack to Home

Share The Knowledge:

More From our Library

More From our Library