Back in May of 2019, I signed up for Arcadia Power. I got a Google Home as a sign up bonus, but the biggest benefit to me was the ability to pay with a credit card (and get that sweet, sweet cash back).

My local electric provider (DP&L, although it’s since been rebranded as AES Ohio) charges a fee to use a credit card, costing more than any rewards I might’ve earned.

They’ve still my local provider - I pay Arcadia and then Arcadia pays DP&L.

At the beginning of April (the transaction posted on April 9th), I paid for one unit of Arcadia Power’s Community Solar Program. The upfront cost was \$100 (although I paid with my Citi Double Cash card, effectively bringing the price down to \$98). In return, I get a discount on my electric bill for the next ten years.

There’s supposed to be a solar dashboard, but as of now, I’m still seeing the following when I try to look at it:

This month I got my first discount - \$1.36. That may not sound like much, but if you multiply it by the 120 months I will be getting a discount, which amounts to \$163.20.

Of course, I double-checked to make sure this discount was genuine. I logged into my DP&L/AES Ohio account and saw that my bill did accurately reflect my discount:

So I will make my money back - assuming the discount is the same each month. The amount of the discount is variable, based on the output of the solar panels. And if the discount is the same amount each month, I’ll get my \$100 back in about 73½ (\$100/\$1.36) months - or a little over six years.

If you really want to compare this “investment” to other, more traditional investments, then we’ll have to use the good ole interest equation:

``````PV (1 + i)^t = FV
``````

Where PV is present value (aka start value), i is interest rate, t is time in years, and FV is final value. For us, PV = \$100, t = 10, and FV = \$163.20. We’re going to solve for i:

``````\$100 (1 + i)^10 = \$163.2
``````

I’m a bit lazy, so I just threw the equation into WolframAlpha and let it solve it for me. Turns out the equivalent interest rate is slightly more than 5%.

What Are Some Risks?

I’ve identified four distinct risks involved with the Community Solar program. None of these risks are extreme, however.

First off, the discount is going to be variable. Supposedly the discount will be less in the winter (due to less sunshine). Since this first discount happened near the summer solstice, it might be a high amount. We’ll have to see over the next year how much it varies.

Secondly, it’s possible, although unlikely, I could end up with no discount. Probably the worst case is if Arcadia goes bankrupt - I might end up out of luck in that case.

Before I signed up and paid for my solar, I did email Arcadia help to ask if there were any additional risks I might incur. Their response confirmed that - worst case - I’m just out my \$100:

There are not necessarily any risks involved, aside from that scenario you proposed. However, it’s unlikely that you wouldn’t receive any credit during a given month, just potentially less than usual. There’s no way that a subscription to this program would ever cost you anything beyond the \$100 upfront payment.

The third risk is the lack of liquidity. Once I spend my \$100, I can’t get it quickly back - as opposed to say, a savings account that you can withdrawal your money at any time.

The fourth risk is simply the opportunity cost. What else could I have done with the \$100 that would have earned more? Or, if my only concern was the environment and not a return on my money, what else could I have done with the \$100 to better benefit the environment?