1. I would like to add panels to our system that was installed previously.
Solar companies can put on extra panels, but these panels will be a totally separate system because your original system is on a previous SREC program, and the new panels would be on the SMART program. Any changes to the original system would mean you lose those incentives.
2. What criteria were used to pick these two companies for Solarize 2017?
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
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
3. What happened to the 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.”
Individual homeowners should use the Customer Care line. The number is 888-603-6085 or email email@example.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.
4. Do any of the vendors do solar on churches and other nonprofits?
Many vendors can potentially can handle business and nonprofit projects, and possibly even some community/neighborhood solar projects, if suitable sites can be located. Please contact us to find out more about how the St. Anne's in-the-Fields solar project was handled.
5. Do any of the vendors do architecturally integrated photovoltaics, which are also called building integrated photovoltaics (great for historical districts)?
Not at this time. These very new technologies are still experimental and expensive. The Codman Farm House, the Egg Barn and 8 Trapelo Road are some examples of solar panels installed in the Historic District in Lincoln.
6. Why go solar now?
It takes some initial effort to evaluate and decide on installing Solar PV and Solar Hot Water, but in our opinion, it continues to be a “no brainer” on the finance side.
For Solar 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 about 8 years. After that, for the remaining 12-17 years the equipment is guaranteed to work, the electricity you generate costs you nothing!
This analysis assumes the current Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target Program (SMART) mechanism will remain funded by MA for at least the next 7 years. New participants will be enrolled in the SMART program, but those already in the SREC program will continue to receive RECs.
7. I’ve heard there are savings, but where in the process do the savings come from?
The SMART program, the next phase of solar incentives following the SREC II program provides about half the amount of incentives.
The LSW Solarize 2017 conducted a bid process and selected a solar vendor based on base cost and other factors such as company financial strength. The average base price bid was $2.95 per Watt. Now that the Solarize program is over, installation costs might continue to drop or tariffs on solar panels, changing supply and demand, labor costs, and diminished incentives could increase the costs of installing solar. Additionally, funds for the Mass Solar Loan Program may deplete in the coming years.
8. 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)?
Installer warranties and the equipment manufacturer warranties are of dubious value if a company involved goes out of business. This consideration was part of the Solarize LSW Team's strategy when selecting an installer. The Team chose a large MA-based firm that would likely weather the ups-and-downs of the solar industry without going under. The Team also ensured that parts would come from established manufacturers with high quality products.
Additionally, Solar PV requires little maintenance. Inverters break down after about 10 years and need to be replaced. PV panels have a life span of about 25 years.
9. 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:
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) that an independent company organizes. You receive credits on your electric bill in exchange for your share.
“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.
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.
10. What is going on with net-metering and the utilities proposed rate hike? Who benefits from the growth of solar PV?
“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)