Q and A

SolarFlair also has a page with frequently asked questions about solar PV and about their company here.

If you have a question that isn’t asked there, or here, let us know by commenting here or emailing SolarizeLSW@gmail.com, and we’ll do our best to answer it.

We would like to add panels to our system that was installed previously. Do you know if any of the installers would be interested in this?

SolarFlair can put on extra panels, but they will be a totally separate system because your original system is on a previous SREC program, and the new panels would be on the SREC 2.5 program. Any changes to the original system would mean you lose those incentives.

What criteria were used to pick these two companies?

Lincoln, Wayland, and Sudbury put out a joint Request for Proposals (RFP) for a competitive bid. We had 19 responses. A team of volunteers and municipal representatives from all three towns and a consultant from the Mass Clean Energy Center developed a list of criteria by which to evaluate proposals, which included:

  • experience and financial stability of company
  • quality of equipment and installation
  • price
  • quality of marketing plan and receptiveness to community outreach plan
  • physical proximity of operations to communities
  • openness to thinking outside the box with regard to condominiums, non-profits, and businesses

What happened to the last company (from Solarize 2012)?

Astrum Solar was bought by Direct Energy Solar, which has now shut down their residential rooftop systems operations. They have, however, promised to their Solarize 2012 customers and guaranteed for the MassCEC that they will “maintain our Customer Care and Maintenance organizations to continue to honor our industry-leading workmanship warranties and production guarantees. Additionally, if you are in one of the states which utilizes Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), we will also continue to manage these on your behalf.”

***For individual homeowners that may ask you for contact details, they should use the Customer Care line. The number is 888-603-6085 or email customercare@directenergysolar.com. Direct Energy will continue to honor all warranties and guarantees into the future, and service and support for existing customers will continue.  What this means for Solarize customers is that they can continue to benefit from the warranties and production guarantees as per their contracts. In many cases these are up to 20 years. Also, all SREC brokerage agreements will continue unaffected.***

Do any of the vendors do solar on churches? I think that many vendors only do homes or only commercial.

We think that SolarFlair can handle business and nonprofit projects, and possibly even some community/neighborhood solar projects, if suitable sites can be located. Please don’t hesitate to ask them or the solar coaches. We will do our very best to find a way.

Do any of the vendors do architecturally integrated photovoltaics, which are also called building integrated photovoltaics? This is specifically about historic districts.

Not at this time. These very new technologies are still very experimental and expensive.

Why go solar now?

It does take some initial effort to evaluate and decide on installing Solar PV and Solar Hot Water, primarily to understand the equipment options and the financing and tax incentives available. But in our opinion, it continues to be a “no brainer” on the finance side.

For Solar Hot Water systems, the investment is smaller than for PV, but equally good as heating fuels such as natural gas, oil, or propane are offset by free energy from the sun.

As for PV, current projects done via outright purchase are expected to break even (ie. cost you no more than you would spend buying electricity from Eversource over the same time period) in 5-6 years. After that, for the remaining 15-20 years the equipment is guaranteed to work, the electricity you generate costs you nothing!

This analysis assumes the current solar renewable energy credit (SREC) mechanism will remain funded by MA for at least the next 5 year. Given the tens of thousands of *voters* who have purchased systems based on the SREC subsidy, it strikes us as politically unpalatable for the MA legislature to do anything other than their current plan of cutting off new participants into the SREC program in spring of 2018, when the program changes to SMART.

That means that this is a good time to go solar. We don’t know yet what will happen in 2018, but all news so far indicates that the income generated by residential solar systems turned on after that deadline will earn less income. Sign up and install before the deadline, and you can still enjoy SRECs.

I’ve heard there are savings, but where in the process do the savings come from? What would be the difference in cost if I initiated the same solar project in 12 months, instead of before Jan. 31, 2018?
The most important benefit of installing solar now as opposed to a year from now concerns revenue: installing now will qualify your system for the current state incentive program (SREC II ) as long as its in service by, say, the end of the first quarter of next year, 2018. The subsequent incentive program, SMART (an acronym), will provide about half of the incentive of SREC II.
The savings of the Solarize program is relative to the average cost for residential solar and is built into its price of $2.91 per Watt, base. The LSW towns’ Energy Committees in conjunction with the MA Clean Energy Center conducted a bid process this summer and received 19 vendor proposals. Our selection process included base cost and other factors, such as company financial strength. The average base price bid was $2.95 per Watt.
What would be the difference in installation cost if you waited a year? Using recent history as indicative of the future, installation cost might drop. Last year’s base price in Solarize Natick was $3.05 per Watt. The difference in cost between $3.05 and $2.91 for a 7.5 kW system is $1,050. However, as you know “past performance is no guarantee of future performance”, and the potential for price shocks due to tariffs on panels is real. And, the savings between years is materials, only, not labor. The potential installation cost savings from waiting a year would be eliminated over time by lost of incentive over the system life in addition to the loss of a year’s retail savings.
Lastly: if you’re planning to finance through the Mass Solar Loan program, that program and its funds won’t last forever…

 

How might this year’s selection process avoid some of the pitfalls associated with the 2012 effort (specifically the perils of Astrum being sold and customer service falling by the wayside with the new owners)?

Of course the installer warranties and the equipment manufacturer warranties are of dubious value if the companies involved go bust. That is why, when the Solarize LSW Team was selecting installers this year, we preferred the larger MA based firms that have been around for years, and have a large and diversified business now to help them weather the inevitable ups and downs of the solar industry business cycle. Similarly, we made sure the installers are using parts from established manufacturers that have a reputation of selling high quality parts. This still does not ensure success, as the recent Direct Energy news highlights, but it does improve our odds of our warranties being honored.

One other nice thing about Solar PV is that, generally speaking, it just works, year after year, with little maintenance or effort on your part. The only typical task required in years 1-10 is to sell the SRECs you generate, which you can do quarterly, or wait and just do it once a year. If you use a broker for your SRECs, your annual tasks reduce to simply cashing the check for the SREC sale proceeds! Many of us in the 2012 Solarize program had Astrum (now Direct Energy) act as our broker, which they have done for the last 5 years and claim they will continue to do for legacy residential clients. If not, an established SREC broker that is recommended by SolarFlair, our selected PV installer this year, is SRECTrade.com.

What are some additional solar investment options if my home is too shady or technical conditions prohibit hosting solar directly?

There are several options to participate in a solar program, even if you can’t host a solar array (PV or hot water) yourself:

  1. Community solar — this is an option of becoming a shareholder of an array at a host site (such as a ground-mounted solar array on a landfill or unused parking lot, or a rooftop array at a large commercial building or apartment complex, for example) that an independent company organizes. You receive credits on your electric bill in exchange for your share. In our case, Solar Flair is willing to broker such arrangements.
  2. “Neighborhood” solar (Schedule Z) — a Massachusetts law, called Schedule Z, allows for solar hosts to transfer excess energy by way of metering credits to their neighbors. A website called MySunBuddy,  http://www.mysunbuddy.com, outlines how you can facilitate and systematize smallish neighborhood shared solar projects.
  3. Make the Switch — if none of the above options are viable for you, you can make a direct purchase of renewable electricity from your local utility provider through a program administered through the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance called Make the Switch. This adds just a small cost to your electric bill, but makes a big difference in two ways: (a) it helps fund additional investments in renewables; and (b) you send a signal that there is a high demand for renewable energy in Massachusetts.

What is going on with net-metering and the utilities proposed rate hike? Who benefits from the growth of solar PV?

There is a good write-up here. Quotes:

“As Eversource tells it, customers with solar panels who zero out their electric bills by selling excess electricity back to the utility are getting a free ride on the cost to maintain the grid — the grid that those same customers rely on when the sun isn’t shining. … Analyses from around the country contradict the assertion that solar customers are raising costs for other ratepayers.”

“The reason the industry narrative doesn’t play out is that distributed solar power affects energy markets and infrastructure requirements. When solar installations deliver electricity at times of peak demand, it avoids firing up more expensive power plants that elevate wholesale energy prices. Additionally, the increasing fraction of solar generation in the energy mix limits the need to build new transmission lines and power plants. Then there’s the economic stimulus — a recent report indicates there are 15,000 Massachusetts jobs in the solar industry.”

“But while the growth of solar power may benefit all ratepayers, it also threatens the growth and earnings of electric utilities.”

“Power To The People: What’s Really Happening With Net Metering,” by Frederick Hewett (http://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2017/08/01/power-to-the-people-whats-really-happening-with-net-metering)

Sudbury is implementing a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) for residential electricity. How does that affect current or future solar PV systems?

CCA has no effect on incentives, nor net metering credits. Customers qualify for incentive programs if they’re within Eversource’s  distribution system regardless of CCA participation or their choice of energy  supplier. And, net metering credits accumulate and are paid based on Eversource’s Basic Service charge regardless of CCA, or choice of supplier. Sudbury’s CCA: https://sudbury-cea.com/. Further explanation: https://arlingtondev.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/net-metering.pdf.

 

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