Solarize Acton: How to reduce your electric bill now

Hello Fellow Actonians: I take great pleasure in getting my electric bill these days. How can that be? Because in most months my bill is $0.

My solar panels have been up for 3 years now, and I'm very happy to have them. If I had borrowed money to pay my net costs, my loan payments would have been less than my former electric bills: putting solar panels up is now a cash-positive move for most homeowners. Now, in Acton, there's a program running that makes this proposition even better.

Solarize Mass is a joint program of a couple of state agencies, the town of Acton, and some local community partners, to bring low-cost high-quality solar panels to Acton residents and small business owners. Acton, as a town with Green Community status, was able to apply to be one of the towns for Solarize Mass program this year. Once Acton was chosen, Acton officials put out bids to choose a single installer for everyone who signs a contract by September 30. A single installer means the following extra advantages:

  • The installer has been carefully vetted by local and state officials, and local members of the Green Advisory Board. The chosen installer, Hudson-based New England Clean Energy, has a great local track record, and excellent prices.
  • Having contracts in hand before starting construction means that New England Clean Energy is passing on the savings of bulk purchasing in their pricing; and the more contracts are signed, the better the prices are.
  • Having community partners to run educational events, staff informational tables (and write articles) means that our installer has lower marketing costs, and those savings get passed on as well.

If you have an Acton electric bill as a resident or a business-owner, Solarize Acton can help get you low-cost high-quality solar panels that will significantly reduce your electric bill, with a cash flow that pays back your investment in around six years or less. Your land or your roof will need to get six hours of sunlight in Spring & Fall, and your roof will need to either point southeast to southwest, or be flat enough to put simple tilt-frames on it to point the panels to the south.

If the up-front payments are a problem, there is a Solarize Acton Power Purchase Agreement where a finance company owns the system, you pay nothing for installation or maintenance, and you only pay for the solar electric power that flows in to your house, at rates less then you pay for electricity now.

To get started, you just need to sign up for a free solar power site assessment at SolarizeActon.org. You can read more about the program there, or contact info@solarizeacton.org to ask questions. You can also talk directly to New England Clean Energy, the chosen installer for Solarize Acton, by calling 978-567-6527.

Once you sign up for a free site assessment, New England Clean Energy will look at your property with aerial photographs. If your site seems to have enough sunlight and the roof lines are good enough, they'll offer to come out to your house to get a better look and, if appropriate, prepare a proposal for you to look over. Everyone that signs a contract by October 31 is eligible for the Solarize Acton pricing. To be able to sign a contract by October 31, you will want to request your free site assessment in the next two weeks, by the middle of October.

The construction takes less then a week – a couple of days to do the indoor wiring, and a few days to put up the panels. New England Clean Energy will take care of all the paperwork and permissions. The Solarize Acton installations will all be done in a year or less. They will also connect you with the state and federal rebates and credits that help make solar power especially smart right now.

If your roof is not flat, or not facing somewhere between southeast and southwest, or if you get too much shade, you might have New England Clean Energy look in to the possibility of solar hot water, which can reduce your bills for heating hot water considerably. Solar Hot Water can work in situations where Solar Electricity is not feasible. Another possibility is that you might have land that can support a pole-mounted system.

Solarize Acton pricing is done with a series of 'tiered' prices, where prices drop by about $1,200 for an average system as contract milestones are reached. These tiers are reached when the total Watts of all contracted systems gets above 25K, 50K, 150K, and 250K. Since an average system is about 5K watts, each tier is reached when about five, ten, thirty and fifty contracts are signed. We are currently at Tier 3, and half way to Tier 4.

Since this is the Acton Forum, it seems like we ought to also talk about the political issues, but I'm not sure what they are now. Back when the payback periods were 20 years or more for solar power, installing solar panels was more of a political statement. Now it's just financial common sense. It's also a chance to be more independent from both big government and big companies, neither of which have figured out a way to get between your roof and the sun to extract taxes or profits. The state and the federal government are adding incentives and rebates to make solar power more affordable, but this is also based on economic realism rather than idealism. For Massachusetts, supporting local energy production is supporting the economic competitiveness of the state and its residents. We are at the end of many long and expensive delivery systems for our fossil fuels. Getting more energy from sunlight, and supporting the growth of the solar power industry, both production and installation, are ways to help the Massachusetts economy thrive despite high external energy prices. The same is true for the U.S: although we do have fossil fuel resources, the cheap and easy supplies are largely gone, and the remaining sources come with higher production and environmental costs. Renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are a way for the US to grow towards energy independence, and production is growing quickly. Since the fuel source for wind and solar is free, the main cost is the initial capital for production and installation of facilities, and competition, technological progress, and financial innovation are bringing those costs down quickly.

If the last paragraph was boring or confusing, don't worry. The key opportunity you face as an Acton homeowner this month is not about politics, it's about whether you can drastically cut your electric bill for the next 25 years, which is the warranty period for solar panels. Solarize Acton is a chance for you to find out if now is the time – check it out at SolarizeActon.org.

Comments

Supporting American green energy jobs

Hi Kurt:

You raise some important issues about supporting green energy jobs.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes the importance of supporting local manufacturers. The Massachusetts rebates are higher if the system uses Massachusetts-manufactured components. The standard inverters for Solarize Acton projects are from Solectria in Massachusetts. (Inverters are an important and expensive part of a solar electric system).

The bidding process for installers used in Solarize Acton led us to New England Clean Energy who gave us excellent prices. These days, the need for excellent prices will lead installers away from US-made panels.

I personally wish the policy of the US was to remove all the support they give to the fossil fuel industry, and give some more support to the Solar industry instead, but that's not my call. In the mean time, for 2012, Solarize Mass is trying to get people the best prices they can.

I was pleased that my panels from 3 years ago (before Solarize Mass) were from Evergreen Solar, which at the time was a Massachusetts supplier. But they've moved. There's a lot of strong economic reasons why panel manufacturers are moving overseas.

The US has announced sanctions against Chinese solar panels. China appears to be using government support to drop solar panel prices below their cost, against international trade rules. I'm happy to report that none of the solar panel options from New England Clean Energy are from Chinese manufacturers. Siliken and Bosch manufacture in Europe, where legal governmental support for the renewable energy industry runs deep.

If having US-manufactured panels is enough of an important value for Kurt or for anyone else that they would like to pay more, then by all means they should do so. There are many installers of solar electric systems in Massachusetts, and I'm sure you could find at least one who would be willing to use US-made solar panels.

In the case of Solarize Acton, we are making a simple economic case for the wisdom of getting solar power systems installed on Acton properties. We did not add a requirement for US-manufactured panels because we thought most Actonians would be simply looking at the bottom line. But I applaud your support for American green jobs, and I wish you luck in bringing that support to your search for a solar power installation.

Jim Snyder-Grant is a member of Green Acton - more at http://greenacton.org. More about me at http://snyder-grant.org/jim. Or - just contact me at 978 266-9409 or jimsg@newview.org

All imported equipment = no green jobs in US

Jim,

I've seen the signs and was interested. I contacted New England Clean Energy directly and asked them where they source the solar cells / modules from.

The answer?

NONE of the cells / modules that NE Clean Energy installs are made in the US....even though we do have domestic manufacturers of solar cells and modules.

http://www.mxsolarusa.com/

http://www.solarworld.com/

http://www.americansolarmanufacturing.org/

This really seems to be a travesty, once again, of a government sponsored program (your taxes) again supporting businesses that do not generate high paying jobs in this country. Never mind about the "installation" jobs created...those are not going to pay like a manufacturing job and never will since installation work is so labor intensive.

How in the world is the US going to benefit from the "Green Revolution" if we don't even manufacture the "Green Revolution" infrastructure in this country?

Would I pay more for US-made solar equipment to support my own country's economy? You bet!

It was really disappointing to find out that I couldn't even REQUEST USA made equipment / materials from the installer.

I would like to install solar but I guess I will be on my own making sure the solar equipment I buy supports American workers.

Is this program something you really want to support and promote in it's current form, Jim?