FAQ

Solarize Needham FAQ

If the information presented here does not answer all your questions, please email us at solarcoach@solarizeneedham.org with your question, or call the Solarize Needham Coach, Artie Crocker at: 781-444-7020.

1. What is Solarize Needham?

2. Why go solar?

3. Why is this a good time to go solar?

4. What are the state and federal incentives available for solar electricity?

5. SRECs are a legislative creation. Can a future legislature take them away?

6. Why should I participate in Solarize Needham?

7. Do I need to use the designated installer?

8. When do I need to make a decision?

9. How can Solarize Needham lower installation costs?

10. What are the requirements?

11. My best roof faces southwest (or southeast). Can I still participate?

12. I have some shade. Can I still participate?

13. What if I rent/own a rental house?

14. What if I own property in Needham but live in a different town?

15. My house has a generator, can I install solar electricity?

16. How much does it cost?

17. What is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)?

18. What is the difference between a PPA and a Lease?

19. How can a lease or PPA system be offered for little or $0 down?

20. What if I move?

21. What happens at the end of the PPA term?

22. Is it better to purchase a system or choose a PPA?

23. When would I receive SREC payments?

24. Does Solarize Needham offer solar hot water?

25. What is the impact on my property value and taxes?

26. What regular maintenance is required?

27. What if I have a backup generator?

28. Will my solar panels keep producing electricity during a power outage?

29. What is the impact on my carbon footprint?

30. How about the energy required to manufacture solar equipment?

31. Is solar really viable in New England?


1. What is Solarize Needham? Return

Solarize Needham is a part of Solarize Mass, a joint initiative of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Green Communities Division of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER). It is designed to promote the widespread adoption of small-scale solar electricity within a community. On December 2, 2013 MassCEC announced that Needham had been selected to participate in Round 2 of the 2013-2014 program. Solarize Needham uses community outreach and group purchasing to reduce the installation costs of solar electricity. Through the program, Needham residents have access to solar education events, low or $0 down power purchase agreement or lease options, and competitive tiered pricing. With tiered pricing, as more home and business owners sign up to go solar, the price reduces for everyone! It all adds up to a unique opportunity for residents to help make Needham greener while saving money at the same time. The installer partner for Solarize Needham is Astrum Solar and the enrollment period will be from January to (Extended unitl October 31, 2014).

2. Why go solar? Return

Solar is a clean, renewable source of energy that promotes American job growth, supports domestic energy independence and lowers our Greenhouse Gas emissions by replacing electricity generated by coal or gas. In most situations, the simplicity and proximity of solar electric power, coupled with current financial incentives, makes it less expensive than utility power. Solar power is reliable, noiseless, safe, and adds value to your property without increasing your property taxes.

3. Why is this a good time to go solar? Return

Installing solar electricity for your home or business has never been more cost-effective than it is today, and solar electricity will save you money compared to utility power. The incentives and rebates that are currently available from the State of Massachusetts, along with the federal and state tax credits offered, make this a particularly attractive time for solar. With group purchasing, the Solarize Needham program adds another incentive which can lower installation costs further. Over 162 households in Needham and nearly 8,500 Massachusetts homeowners have already installed solar.

4. What are the state and federal incentives available for solar electricity? Return

Right now there are numerous state and federal incentives available, making solar electricity very attractive.

Incentives at installation:

State incentives – There is a state rebate available through MassCEC, which is usually $1,250 – $4,250 for the average system, that can be applied against the initial cost of the system.

State income tax credit of 15% of the installed cost, up to a maximum of $1,000.

Residential solar electric systems are exempt from state sales tax.

Under Massachusetts law, solar panels are exempt from local property taxes for 20 years after they are installed.

Federal incentives – You get 30% of the initial cost (less the state rebate) as a credit against your federal income tax for the year you install the system. Currently you can carry forward unused credits for a limited period of time.

You may want to consult a tax professional about how these incentives apply in your situation.

Ongoing state incentives:

With Net Metering, you become a supplier of electricity to the grid whenever your panels generate more electricity than you use.  Each month, NStar provides a credit on your bill for that electricity, lowering your electric bill.  Through net metering, you are receiving the benefit of every kilowatt-hour of electricity your panels generate.  If you use the electricity in your home, you save by not paying NStar for that electricity.  If you don’t use the electricity when it’s generated, NStar will apply it to future months when you use more electricity then you generate from your Solar panels. If you find your Solar panels regularly produce a credit of electricity on your utility bill there are some options for you to either, sell, donate or give these credits of electricity away.

Solar Renewable Energy Credits are the renewable energy attributes of the electricity your system generates.  For the first ten years your solar electric system is in operation, for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) you generate, you create one solar renewable energy certificate (SREC), which you can sell to Massachusetts utilities and competitive electricity providers. You get credit for every kilowatt hour, even though you may consume some, or all, of it.

Prices are market-based, but may range from about $200-285 apiece (after commission). Transactions are typically handled by an SREC broker (or “aggregator”).  Needham’s Solar Installer partner, Astrum Solar is an SREC aggregator, and offers this capability in-house.  You may, however, use a broker/aggregator of your choice.

5. Can a future legislature take them away? Return

Most incentives for solar electric systems were created through legislation or regulation. While there is always some regulatory risk, the state of Massachusetts has a long history of stable support for renewable energy, and solar electric systems in particular. These incentives have helped to create significant job growth in the Commonwealth, and are helping to reach the Governor’s goal of installing 1,600 MW of solar by 2020.

6. Why should I participate in Solarize Needham? Return

The Solarize Needham program is expected to offer significant savings over current market prices for solar electricity by using our “One Trusted Installer,” Astrum Solar. In addition to significantly saving money on your utility bill you will be helping your community’s local economy, promoting the use of sustainable energy and helping the planet reduce it’s overall carbon footprint!

7. Do I need to use the designated installer? Return

If you want to take advantage of the Solarize Needham volume pricing discount, you need to use Astrum Solar. However, you are still free to get other bids from, and use, other solar electric installers. If that is the case, your project will not be eligible to participate in Solarize Mass, but all of the same state and federal incentives will be available to you (except for the volume pricing discount).

8. When do I need to make a decision? Return

Enrollment in Solarize Needham begins now and in order to take advantage of the Solarize Needham pricing, you will need to commit to the program (sign a contract) by June 30, 2014. Due to the expected high demand, you should sign up for a free, no obligation site assessment by Astrum Solar as soon as possible. This will help to determine if your site is feasible for a solar electric system and what the expected cost would be. In order to be eligible for a rebate under the program, all project sites must either sign up for a free Mass Save energy assessment, or have had one within the last five years. You can sign up for the assessment any time at www.MassSave.com or by phone at 866-527-7283, regardless of whether you participate in Solarize Needham.

9. How can Solarize Needham lower installation costs? Return

Solarize Needham uses community outreach and group purchasing to reduce the installation costs of solar electricity. Specifically,

  • A community-led marketing and outreach campaign lowers the cost of doing business for the selected installer. In other words, it lowers the cost of finding new customers.
  • By creating a large volume of business for a single installer in Needham, the installer is able to provide volume discounts that increase as more people participate in the program.

If enough people participate in the program to reach the trigger points, the price will continue to drop for everyone in the program, including the early participants, so it will be important that we all spread the word and help sign up more people.

10. What are the requirements? Return

Eligible solar projects must

  • be located at residential, commercial, or other private property in Needham.
  • have sufficient solar exposure to participate — If the Solar panels on your will produce less then 80% of the ideal, you may still choose to participate, but the project will not be eligible for a MassCEC rebate. Again, the best way to find out for sure is to sign up for a free, no obligation assessment.

For roof installations

The roof should be in good condition and be structurally able to accommodate the additional load of the solar panels. If your roof is older than 15 years or shows noticeable deterioration, or needs additional structural support, these conditions will need to be addressed before installing solar panels. The installer will help you make this decision. While it is possible to replace a roof after solar panels are installed, it will be an added cost to the roof replacement cost. Most solar electric systems last around 30 years, so take that into account.

Solar panels are typically not installed on a slate roof, but you could replace the section of south-facing slate roof where you want to install solar panels – consult the installer for details.

For ground mounted systems

If your roof is not suitable for solar panels, you may also consider a ground mounted solar electric system.

It doesn’t have to be placed right next to your house, but rather can be situated in the sunniest spot on your property.

SolarizeMass Program Requirements

To receive the Solarize Needham volume pricing, you need to commit to the program (sign a contract) by (Extended to October 31, 2014).

In order to qualify for the state rebate

  • Your system would need to produce 80% or more of the electricity that would be produced by an ideally oriented, unshaded system.
  • You need to have had a home energy assessment within the last five years. You can schedule a home energy assessment at www.MassSave.com or by phone at 866-527-7283.

Systems larger than 15 kW are not eligible for the state rebate, but may still be able to receive the pricing of the Solarize Mass program. Talk to the installer for more information.

11. My best roof faces southwest (or southeast). Can I still participate? Return

Generally, yes. It could impact project economics, but it may be less than, for example, shading or whether the roof structure needs reinforcement. A combination of sub-optimal orientation and shading may make solar electricity no longer financially viable. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules for what is or is not feasible. The best way to find out is to sign up for a free, no obligation assessment.

12. I have some shade. Can I still participate? Return

Yes. Even if the shading on your house reduces your system’s output below 80% of ideal, you may still choose to participate, but the project will not be eligible for a MassCEC rebate and will likely be less financially viable. Again, the best way to find out for sure is to sign up for a free, no obligation assessment.

13. What if I rent/own a rental house or a Condo? Return

Renters cannot install solar electric systems, but owners of rental property can. Since each situation is different, you should explain your situation to the installer so they can come up with the best solution. Condo owners should also be encouraged to look into solar electricity. There are technical and other solutions that make it possible to install solar electricity for condos.

14. What if I own property in Needham but live in a different town? Return

You are still eligible to participate for your property located in Needham.

15. My house has a generator, can I install solar electricity? Return

Yes. (See “What if I have a backup generator”)

16. How much does it cost? Return

There will be two options for participating in Solarize Needham – you can purchase and therefore own the system or enter into a lease or Power Purchase Agreement. There will be five tiers of pricing, with the savings increasing for everyone as more contracts are signed.

17. What is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)? Return

A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is when you allow a third party to put solar panels on your roof. You agree to purchase the solar power created on your roof from this third party at a certain agreed upon rate that may be lower than your current electric rate, typically for the next twenty years.

18. What is the difference between a PPA and a Lease? Return

PPA’s and leases work very similarly. The only real difference is with a PPA you are paying a specific kilowatt hour rate for the amount of kilowatts the system produces. With a lease, you are leasing the equipment which in turn creates the kilowatt hours of electricity.

19. How can a lease or PPA system be offered for little or $0 down? Return

A third party owns the system on your roof and receives all rebates, tax credits, and SREC credits. You pay them at your agreed upon rate for the life of the agreement.

20. What if I move? Return

The PPA agreement is completely transferable to the next homeowner. Many people find it appealing to purchase a home that has reduced utility costs.

21. What happens at the end of the PPA term? Return

At the end of the agreement, generally 20 years, you’ll typically have 3 choices. 1) the panels will be removed at no cost to you. 2) You can purchase them at some mutually agreed upon price. 3) You can extend the life of the agreement.

22. Is it better to purchase a system or choose a PPA? Return

There is really no right or wrong answer to this question. Ultimately, it is what is best for each individual and their circumstances. Many people prefer to purchase the system, thus gaining the advantages of receiving SREC payments and tax credits, and potential home resale value. A PPA is generally better for people who don’t want to invest in the system up front. It is also a great option for people who do not have the tax liability to take advantage of the Federal (30%) and State (15% up to $1,000) tax credits. The third party will receive those and incorporate the incentives into the PPA offer. The solar installer will be able to help you decide which option is best for you.

23. When would I receive SREC payments? Return

If you purchase and own the system you will be eligible to earn solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) that can be sold – in addition to the money you save by using the electricity you produce. There will be a delay between electricity generation and payment for SRECs. SRECs are “minted” on the fifteenth day of the first month after the quarter in which they are generated. So if you finish generating 1 MWh in the second quarter (ending in June), they cannot be sold until October at the earliest. Your SREC broker or “aggregator” will handle the sale for you. If you choose to wait for the annual state-sponsored auction, it could be even longer. But once you start receiving payments, they should come at regular intervals.

24. Does Solarize Needham offer solar hot water? Return

No, there are only discounted prices for solar electric systems. But, MassCEC also has a rebate program for solar hot water systems that is separate from the Solarize Mass program (www.masscec.com/solarhotwater).

25. What is the effect on my property value and taxes? Return

Imagine two identical homes next to one another, one with solar and one without. It is not hard to imagine that the house with solar would sell for more because it costs less to operate. An article in the New York Times describes a California study that found the premium paid for homes with solar electricity was roughly $5.50/watt, or about $17,000 (which was roughly the installation price of the panels, at the time). A follow-up study from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab described in this article found that among the California homes studied, the resale value increased about $5,900 for each kilowatt that the home’s solar array could generate. You can access the full study here . Although the experience of the California market may not apply exactly to the Needham market, it does seem likely that the solar panels will add to a home’s value.

Although solar panels may affect the value of houses, they will not affect property taxes. Under Massachusetts law, solar panels are exempt from local property taxes for 20 years after they are installed.

26. What regular maintenance is required? Return

Your solar electric panels should be mostly maintenance free over their 25+ year life. You can hose down the panels once or twice a year, but since most panels are tilted, this is not really necessary, as Mother Nature does this for you with rain and snow. Removing snow is not recommended since you risk damaging the panels. It is better to lose a few days of production in the winter (when output is low anyway) than to damage the panels. In any event, snow slides off the panels much easier than the roof because the surface is smooth tempered glass and as soon as part of the panel is exposed to the sun, it starts to heat up and the snow melts off (so be careful what you place beneath your solar panels).

27. What if I have a backup generator? Return

If you have a backup generator, you can continue to use it as before. If you want to install a backup generator, you would do that as if there were no solar electricity. The solar electricity is wired separately into your electrical panel, and for safety reasons, is designed to automatically disconnect in the event of a power outage. When grid power is restored, the inverter will automatically reconnect and synchronize to the grid and your solar electricity will come back on.

28. Will my solar panels keep producing electricity during a power outage? Return

No. The solar electricity is wired separately into your electrical panel, and for safety reasons, is designed to automatically disconnect in the event of a power outage. When grid power is restored, the system will automatically reconnect and synchronize to the grid and your solar electricity will come back on.

29. What is the impact on my carbon footprint? Return

A 5 kW system should produce about 6,000 kWh of emissions-free electricity per year. This will reduce your annual CO2 emissions by about 4,800 lbs (based on the current New England fuel mix). This is equivalent to driving about 6,000 miles less, planting half an acre of pine trees, recycling 1,400 pounds of waste instead of throwing it out, or using 5 fewer barrels of oil.

30. How about the energy required to manufacture solar equipment? Return

According to information published in the magazine Solar Today in June 2012, a solar electric system in Massachusetts generates the amount of energy required to make and maintain it in 0.9 to 2 years. The energy life-cycle analysis was estimated by the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

31. Is solar really viable in New England? Return

Absolutely!  Our available sun power here in New England is about 80% of the sunniest parts of the Southwestern US and is much greater than anywhere in Germany, one of the leading solar countries in the world. (Germany is about as sunny as Alaska!)

Well, if we’re only getting 80% of the sun here in New England, how can it be viable?

Economic viability is a function of the available sun power and local incentives. Massachusetts is one of the most “solar-friendly” states in terms of economic incentives in the form of rebates, tax credits, and net metering policies.

What about the cold?

Colder operating temperatures are actually better for PV!  Although it may intuitively seem that the Arizona desert is ideal for PV, the intense heat decreases the efficiency of the modules.  Cooler temperatures mean higher efficiency.

Will I still generate electricity on a cloudy day?

The electricity production will not be as high as on a sunny day, but your system will still generate electricity because there will still be some irradiance.  Under a light overcast day, panels might produce about half as much as under full sun.

What happens with my solar array when it snows?

When it snows, the snow may cover the solar panels and affect the production of your system.  However, in most cases enough sunlight will still be able to penetrate through to the modules, warming them and melting the layer of snow that is on them.  Snow typically clears from your solar panels much sooner than other parts of the roof.