Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Going Solar

I usually keep the blog pretty much on a gardening track, but I know there is a lot of crossover between gardeners and the green community. So some of you might find my ramblings on getting solar interesting. When we were looking at houses we didn't just look at sunshine for the plants, we looked at sunshine for the roof. I'd looked into solar in the past and it was barely doable in Massachusetts. But it was doable.

Rewind to the year we moved. 2010. Unbeknownst to me, Massachusetts enacted some of the most favorable (or is it the most?) solar legislation in the country. Their goal I think is 22% renewables by 2020. Solar got a huge boost. They wanted to encourage people to put up solar in our not so sunny climate. So they gave us some very nice incentives. They instituted an SREC program (Solar Renewable Energy Credits). Though we do get some tax credits from the state the first year, the majority of what we get back is from the electric company. So they are paying for this program not with taxes but with increased electricity rates. The electric companies are forced to buy a certain amount of these SRECs from auction and the number goes up every year. The state mandates the number bought be based on how much solar is currently available and how much they anticipate. In 2012 for one SREC, which represents 1 megawatthour, they tried to set the price at $550. Every year it goes down. In 2022 it is supposed to be $347. Of course it is a new program and they have found that their formula sucks. They are trying to put in legislation to fix it. The state guarantees a minimum of $300/SREC with a 5% trading fee, so you see a miniumum of $285/SREC in hand with potentially more.

In addition they recently passed new legislation in August to raise the cap of people allowed to do net metering since we were getting very close to the limit. They also removed the cap for people who put in systems that are less that 10 kW (normal residential and small commercial rooftop systems). Net metering is of course essential since there are no really good systems of home storage of energy.

2012 was my year to start researching companies and finding someone to put solar on my roof. I felt moved in at this point. The garden was no longer new, but now easier to take care of. It was time. So I started looking into it and immediately tripped over the fact that Arlington was picked as one of the towns in the Solarize Massachusetts program. I'd never heard of the program before. I'm guessing it was instituted in 2010 the same time they started legislation for increasing our renewables. So Solarize Arlington started in May and I immediately signed up. What happens is that a committee picks a single contractor to do a bulk buy for the town. The more that sign on, the cheaper it gets. It takes a while to go through the system of getting a proposal in hand. They had about 560 people that signed up. Many didn't have roofs that were viable as they were too shaded, but our roof was fine. It ran from 89% unshaded on one side to 96% on the other side. So very good. It faces directly southeast, which isn't perfect, but still pretty good. So we were a good candidate. Our townhouse was number 2 and 3 that signed on the dotted line and put down our deposit. It takes a while to go through the approval process with the state and electric companies, but we should be producing power in the fall sometime. They think the end of October, but not everything is in their hands.

So with all these programs. Here are the numbers.

  • 6 kW system
  • 7368 kWh produced each year
  • 8226 kWh estimated usage with my husband's plug in hybrid
  • 90% of electricity used supplied by solar
  • $25,340 gross system cost
  • $12,665 net after the first year of running
  • 4+ year payback time assume $300 SRECs and 6% increase in electricity prices/year
  • $20K cash in hand after 10 years, more if SRECs actually are what the state is trying for

I was talking to my dad about how much Massachusetts give you back for the energy you produce, and he was shocked by the numbers. After the first year I'll have half the money I put in back in my hands. This is a combination of the federal tax credit of 30%, the state credit that the installer deals with (I don't really pay the $25K price), SRECs, and reduction in my electricity bill. With the stock market the way it is, how can I not do it? Heck I was going to do it with a 15-20 year payback. A four year or less payback is for anyone to do. They even have programs where you don't have to pay a cent out of your pocket. You just let them put the solar on your roof and your electricity bill goes down. The solar company owns the panels and you let them use your roof.

But obviously the gods of fate were smiling on me this year. Everything came together at the right time. Now I just have to get the back little porch roof on. The roof and icicles were trying to kill me before, with panels on the roof the snow will all come off at once. I'll be going out to the garden to pick something and be decapitated. I was going to get this done anyway, but now it is more immediate. I have to get it done soon. Granny is right. One thing always leads to another.


  1. We installed solar system this summer here in Southern Delaware and love the lower energy bills.

  2. Congratulations! We also went on solar and it was live this spring. of course electric companies always try to get their money back so they switched us to "flat rate" instead of what we use. Sucks but still worth it. Our break even is 5 yrs because we're on small company that did not participate in state program so no refund there, but we'll get federal and solar credits. Best of all - when everyone around us have power outage we're still up and running. With the back up generator for the night it's awesome!

  3. Granny is always right!

    I found this post interesting, since I also live in MA. I plan to check out some of the programs you mentioned.

  4. We haven't gone solar, but we are lucky to have cheap hydro electricity here. I did, however, score $6 per square foot of glass in our new windows and doors from our local Public Utility District. That saved us a cool $1400 on our total installation.

  5. How exciting!! We really need to look in to installing solar since we do have the perfect roof for it. I'm not sure if our state has any good programs yet though.

  6. I wish Alabama had programs for this. My husband and I are definitely interested in solar for our home.

    Congrats to you on the solar leap!

  7. That is indeed good news! It means that the government is now banking on the sun’s power to provide the people energy for their homes, thru solar roofs. This will help house owners to lower their electric bills, and at the same time, do their share to achieve a better environment. That certainly is a good move for you and the citizens!

  8. wow that is really amazing, how great for you and your state! Not to mention the planet ;-). I have been wanting to go solar for a long time, part of the problem is that when I looked at it 10 years ago, the return on investment for me was longer than the 20 year life of the panels. This is because my highest bill of the year is only about $60 a month, in the summer when my cooler is running 24/7. However, with the cost of panels coming down and my living situation getting better money wise, as well as the advent of net metering, I might come out ahead, at least part of the year making more than I use. A subject that needs more research.

  9. Wow! Your state is doing a good job in making your place environmentally-friendly. With a good implementation plan, I'm pretty sure that in no time, your state will be tagged as one of the "green states" in the US.

  10. Cheers to a green community!! :) Once the world has embraced this solar roofing trend, I am sure that not just you, but everyone in your place will be proud of living in that state. I hope that all the other regions will get to appreciate the benefits of having solar power in their community as well.

  11. An efficient way for people to start embracing trends like this is to actually see their government implement it. Once citizens start to see it and appreciate its substantial benefits, the more they will be encouraged to use solar panels as well.