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Solarize Mass Round 2: Coming Your Way!
Category: Solar News
Solarize Mass Round 2: Coming Your Way! image

Solarize Mass is coming to a new batch of towns in 2014!  The lucky winners are Adams, Amherst, Andover, Great Barrington-Egremont, Lexington-Bedford, Needham, Salem-Swampscott, Watertown, Wellfleet, and Williamsburg-Whately-Chesterfield.  If you have seen advertisements for Solarize Mass in your town, you may be wondering:

What is Solarize Mass?
Am I eligible to participate?
Is solar PV a smart financial decision? 
How much does it cost?
Is it better to purchase/finance a solar PV system or do a lease/power purchase agreement (PPA)?

What is Solarize Mass?

Solarize Mass is a program sponsored by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Green Communities Division of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER).  The purpose of the program is to make installing solar easier and less expensive for homeowners throughout the Commonwealth.  Solarize does a lot of the legwork homeowners would otherwise have to do by contracting with a single solar installation company for each town.  The installer is evaluated on price, quality of components used, warranties offered, design procedures, marketing strategies, and a host of other criteria.  The solar installer with the best proposal is chosen to be the Solarize Mass installer for that town, so all the members of the community know that they’re getting a good deal.  What’s more, Solarize Mass encourages mass participation by stipulating a tiered pricing structure so that everyone pays less when more people participate.

Learn more on the program website.

Am I eligible to participate?

Anyone who owns a home or commercial building in a Solarize community is eligible to participate in the program.  Your building is an excellent candidate for solar PV if your roof faces south and is not shaded between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM throughout the year, but roofs facing southeast or southwest with some shading may still be good candidates.  Even if you don’t have cash on hand to purchase a solar PV system, choosing a $0-down lease/PPA option can allow you to have solar on your house for free while saving money on electricity. 

Is solar PV a smart financial decision?

Yes!  There are many different pricing options available through the installers for most Solarize communities, and all of them are a sound investment.  Whether you choose to purchase with or without a substantial up-front payment, prepay your solar lease, or go with a $0-down lease or PPA agreement, your investment in solar PV will be a net gain.  Energy Sage lays out the options in a beautiful hypothetical case study of a residential PV system in Massachusetts (link below).

How much does it cost?

In the first round of the Solarize Mass program (installations from 2011-2013), 875 residential solar PV systems were installed, with a median size of 5.2 kW.  The median installed cost was approximately $23,000.  If you do purchase, you can expect to pay between $3 and $4.50 per Watt for your complete system unless there are issues with your roof or electrical system that incur additional costs. 

Under a lease or PPA, the total cost of the system doesn’t matter so much, since you are not paying for it; what you should be more concerned with is what sort of monthly or per kWh rate you can get, and how much that rate will increase over time.  Often, putting money down up-front will lock in a 0% escalation rate, meaning that if your first year rate under a PPA is $0.09 /kWh, your rate will remain at $0.09 /kWh for the duration of your agreement (usually 20 years).  Even if you end up with a 2-3% escalation rate under a $0-down agreement, your electricity costs will remain lower than what you would otherwise pay to the utility.

Is it better to purchase/finance a solar PV system or do a lease/(PPA)?

In the first round of the Solarize Mass program, 70% of participants elected to purchase their PV systems.  In general, the benefits of owning are

  • Your monthly utility bill can be $0, or negative if you produce more electricity than you consume
  • You can make some money by selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)
  • You can continue to enjoy the free energy produced by your system past the 20-year mark when other agreements expire
  • If you sell you home, it’s no hassle to pass on the PV system as part of the package

On the other hand, you must bear the entire cost of the investment, either in cash or through financing, and you are responsible for maintenance and repair.  The major benefit of the lease/PPA, on the other hand, is its risk-free nature; the system belongs to a financing company, and it’s their responsibility to monitor and maintain it.  The homeowner is usually responsible for preventing trees and other objects from shading the system, but other than that your responsibilities are very limited.  The other main benefits of leasing or signing a PPA are:

You have to put down very little or no money to get solar PV on your home
Your monthly rates will be lower than what you would pay your utility throughout the life of the contract

The downsides of the lease/PPA option, depending on your point of view, can be:

Tax incentives, rebates and SRECs usually go to the financing company, so your savings are limited to the difference between your contract rate and the utility’s rates
You are contractually obligated to make no changes to your property that would affect the production of the PV system
If you sell your home, it can be a small hassle to sort out the transfer of the solar lease/PPA

Again, Energy Sage has more details, as well as an excellent breakdown of how to choose which pricing option works best for you.  Check it out!

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