FAQs

1. What is Belmont Goes Solar?
2. Why go solar?
3. Why is this a good time to go solar?
4. What incentives are available for solar electricity?
5. What is Direct Energy Solar pricing?
6. Why choose the designated installer rather than another installer?
7. What happens after I sign up for a call from Direct Energy Solar?
8. Are there financing options for solar?
9. What solar equipment does Direct Energy Solar offer?
10. When do I need to make a decision?
11. I have some shade. Can I still participate?
12. How can I evaluate if solar is an option for my home?
13. What if I rent or own a rental house or a condo?
14. Can I get more information on SRECs?
15. When will I receive SREC payments and how can I check if my production was reported?
16. Does this program offer solar hot water?
17. What is the effect on my property values and taxes?
18. What regular maintenance is required?
19. Will my solar panels produce electricity during a power outage?
20. What is the impact on my carbon footprint?
21. How about the energy required to manufacture the solar equipment?
22. Is solar really viable in New England?
23. If we only get 80% of the sun in New England, how can it be viable?
24. What about the cold?
25. Will I still generate electricity on a cloudy day?
26. What happens with my solar array when it snows?
27. Is there a leasing or power purchase agreement option available?
28. What is the status of Belmont Light’s policy on emission-free renewable energy facilities?
29. What if my roof is not suitable to for solar PV? Can I still participate?
30. What else can I do to reduce my carbon footprint?
31. Links to additional resources?

READY TO GO SOLAR?   Sign up for a free assessment .

1. What is Belmont Goes Solar?
Belmont Goes Solar is a volunteer group of Belmont residents knowledgeable and enthusiastic about solar. The group is supported by the Board of Selectmen, and formed by members of the Belmont Energy Committee, Mothers Out Front, Sustainable Belmont and Belmont Light. Contact a Belmont Goes Solar coach at 617-855-8209

2. Why go solar?
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 natural gas. In most situations, the simplicity and proximity of solar electric power, coupled with current financial incentives, makes it less expensive than utility power over the lifetime of the equipment, and the expected payback period is between 7 - 9 years for a system that will last over 25 years. 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?
Installing solar electricity for your home or business has never been more cost-effective than it is today. Available federal and state tax credits and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC) make this a particularly attractive time for installing solar.  In addition, Belmont Light has recently updated its policy on emission-free renewable energy facilities to provide a better financial return (see FAQ below).

4. What incentives are available for solar electricity?
Right now, there are several incentives and rebates that make this a great time to go solar:

Federal Incentive

  • 30% of the initial cost as a credit against your federal income tax for the year you install your system. Currently you can carry forward unused credits for a limited period of time (Please consult a tax professional about your personal situation.)

State Incentives

  • 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 MA law, solar panels are exempt from property taxes for the first 20 years of installation

SRECs

  • Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) are the renewable energy attributes of the electricity your system generates. For the first ten years that 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 generated by your system, even though you may consume some or all of it.
  • SREC prices are market-based but may range from about $200-$285 each (after commission). Transactions are typically handled by an SREC broker (or “aggregator”). SREC II program is expiring in mid 2018 so it is important to confirm your allocation before commencing construction. We recommend signing up for solar by 5/1/18 to assure you get your SREC II allocation.

5. What is Group Discount pricing?
Preferred group pricing for the Belmont Goes Solar campaign which is well below normal MA retail prices (discount of around 20%). To get this pricing contracts must be signed by October 1, 2017. The offered systems have been configured to offer excellent equipment quality and value and are suitable for partially shaded roofs as well as roofs with multiple array orientations.

If you have any questions see NeighborhoodSolar.org or contact a solar coach at Coach@belmontgoessolar.org or call 617.855.8209.

6. Why choose the designated installer rather than another installer?
You are free to get bids from, and use, other solar electric installers.  Many people use EnergySage.com to let installers bid on your job. You will still get the same state, federal and local credits and incentives. However, make sure the installer will complete the installation in time so that you get your valuable SREC allocation. There are some very good reasons to use Neighborhood Solar's chosen installer, SunBug Solar:

  • The installer has been “vetted” by Neighborhood Solar ensuring that SunBug Solar is a reputable installer that provides a high-quality system with extensive warranties.
  • .

7. What happens after I sign up for a call?
You will be contacted within a few hours but definitely within 2 business days. During a brief phone call, they will ask about how much electricity you use, ask about the construction and age of your roof, look at your roof with Google software, provide initial feedback and discuss your home’s solar suitability. If it looks like your home has good solar potential and you are interested in proceeding, a visit at your home with a Solar Consultant will be scheduled. At your sales visit, your Solar Consultant will review a potential design and financial proposal and will answer any and all questions that you have. After that, you can work with your Solar Consultant to change your system design and financial options and then decide if you want to move forward. Feel free to contact a member of our solar coach team at any step in process for advice.

8. Are there financing options for solar?

Check out the Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing from MassCEC.

9. What solar equipment do they offer?
It depends on the installer.  For example, see SunBugSolar.org for details.

LG Panel System
LG Panel System

Enphase Microinverters versus Solar Edge Power Optimizers?

This is a tricky decision. Experts are split on what is better:

Advantages of the Solar Edge System with Optimizers:

-          Microinverters (and inverters in general) have a much higher potential for failure during the expected 30 year system life than do solar panels. With a central inverter it is much easier to replace just the one central inverter when it fails (maybe after 15 years) than to replace a bunch of Microinverters that are sitting under the hot panels on the roof and probably will fail at different times, each time requiring someone to climb on the roof, remove the panel(s) and replace the Microinverter(s). Solar Edge Optimizers try to do the best of both worlds, negating shading losses from individual panels and thus optimizing the system performance, but keeping the heavy lifting of converting DC power to AC to the one central inverter. They contain less electronics and generate less heat, and therefore should be more reliable then Microinverters (we will know for sure over the next 30 years).

-          Solar Edge comes standard with panel level monitoring, on the Enphase this is a $250 upcharge.

  • Solar Edge has an inverter system called Storedge designed for integration of a battery back-up system (such as the Tesla Powerwall). People considering integrating a battery at a later time can get the specific inverter designed for this (Solar Edge 7600A-USS), and later add the components needed to add a battery. This solution avoids needing a second inverter to control the battery and probably provides some small conversion efficiency advantage compared to adding a battery backup system to the Enphase Microinverter system.

The advantages of the Enphase Microinverters are as follows:

-          You do not have a big central inverter that you have to find space for to mount it

-          You have 240V AC coming from each panel, which is considered safer than ~500V DC coming down from the roof to the inverter

-          It is easier to add more panels to the Microinverter system. With a central inverter you are limited by how many panels are on each string, and how many strings and maximum power the inverter can take.

Both systems provide:

-          Optimized system performance in shaded conditions over an old fashioned string inverter

-          Rapid shutdown functionality as required by the new NEC electrical code (i.e. the system at the panel will be powerless within 10 seconds when the disconnect switch is activated to protect firefighters).

-          Similar efficiency if you add the optimizer and inverter efficiencies together.

10. When do I need to make a decision?
To get the group discount offer, contracts must be signed by October 1, 2017. To get a reasonable assurance that you get your valuable SREC II alocation, contracts must be signed by May 1, 2018. Due to the expected high demand, you should sign up for a free, no obligation site assessment by SunBugSolar (or other installer) 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.

11. I have some shade. Can I still participate?
Yes. Even if the shading on your house reduces your system's output below 80% of ideal, you may still choose to participate. Your solar consultant will talk you through the pros and cons of doing so.

12. How can I evaluate if solar is an option for my home?

  • Google Project Sunroof provides a quick evaluation of your roofs suitability for solar, how big a system you can install and what your approximate costs and payment options are (Note: this is only available for a part of Belmont so your house might or might not be included)
  • PVWatts is a solar calculator developed by NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, that can provide a good prediction of your house's solar potential and expected costs.

13. What if I rent or own a rental house or a condo?
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. DOER Solar Guide to Condos provides in-depth advice how condo owners can go solar, including how to deal with condo-associations.

14. Can I get more information on SRECs?

Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) issues Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), which represent the clean energy aspects of solar power. Each 1000 kWh solar power generates 1 SREC per year for 10 years. The DOER website on the current status of the SREC-II program has all official information for this.

Note: To get some indication (30+ day lag) that the state has received an application from DES for the panels on your home, go to http://www.mass.gov/eea/energy-utilities-clean-tech/renewable-energy/solar/rps-solar-carve-out-2/current-status-solar-carve-out-ii.html and click on the link to download the XLS called: "Solar Carve-Out II Qualified Units". In that XLS, search for your last name.

To see the current SREC II price, go to http://www.srectrade.com/srec_markets/massachusetts . For installations done by Direct Energy Solar, where you selected DES as your SREC broker, call DES Customer Care at 888-603-6085 for more definitive information on your SREC status.

DOER uses two mechanisms to ensure the future value of SRECs:

  • Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP):
    This is what utilities will have to pay (as a penalty) if they do not generate or buy enough SREC’s on the open market to fulfill their RPS compliance obligations. This can be seen as the upper limit of what SRECs will be traded at. As can be seen in the table on the DOER website the ACT payment is set as $375 for 2014 and goes down to $244 in 2025.
  • SREC-II Clearinghouse Auction Price Schedule: This is the price set by DOER for any SRECs remaining unsold at the end of a year (June 15) that will be offered in an auction (held in July). In order to help sell these “unwanted” SRECs, DOER increases the value by extending their life first to two years, and if they are not sold in the first round of the auction, to three years. If SREC-IIs are still not sold in the second round, then DOER will increase the minimum compliance requirement for the following year and hold a third auction round. If after three rounds the SREC’s did not sell, they are returned to the owner, retaining their three year compliance value and can be sold again in the following year. This mechanism is designed to set a floor value for the SRECs’s. However, there is a possibility of them not being sold, at least not in the year they were minted, and thus having a lower value then the fixed auction price. The Auction Price is set at $300 minus 5% fees = $285 for 2014 and decreases to $180 (after fees) in 2025.

Some aggregators offer to buy SREC’s for 10 years up front, usually at about $100-200 per SREC-II. Some guarantee a value for the first three years. If you have the stomach, it is probably best financially to hold on to them and sell them on the open market at a value hopefully between the ACP and auction price.

It is also important to note that SREC-IIs are in limited supply, the program was capped at 1600 MW which was reached in 2016. DOER has created an emergency extension that covers systems installed and connected by January 8th 2017.  For customers with a Permission To Operate (PTO) date after that date, the SREC-II value drops by 20%.

DOER is expected to release a follow-up program (SMART) in Summer of 2018 that will provide significantly lower incentives than the current SREC-II program. The SMART program will only cover Investor Owned Utility (IOU) territories and will probably not be available in Municipal Light Department communities. If you live in a "Muni" town we highly recommend to install your solar system before June 2018.  Systems that are installed and operational by the end of June 2018 can file for an extension of the SREC-II program and will receive 80% of the SREC-II credits.

15. When will I receive SREC payments and how can I check if my production was reported?
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. For example, if you finish generating 1 MWh in the second quarter (ending in June), SRECs 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. .

Some SREC brokers sell SRECs on behalf of customers once or twice a year in the April to August time period and customers can expect to see a check once a year in late summer.

All solar production for each system installed and registered in MA is tracked in the Production Tracking System (PTS) by MassCEC. You as the homeowner can log into the PTS system and check if your production data was reported properly by DES or your reporting company. Here is a link to the homeowner guide to production reporting PTSHomeownerGuide. The PTS website can be found here: http://www.masscec-pts.com/login.aspx

 

16. Does this program offer solar hot water?
Yes, see NeighborhoodSolar.org for details.

17. What is the effect on my property values and taxes?
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 Belmont 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.

18. What regular maintenance is required?
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). Snow guards ($45 per panel that touches the snow guard) are an optional adder which we recommend if this is a concern.

19. Will my solar panels produce electricity during a power outage?
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.

20. What is the impact on my carbon footprint?
A 5 kW system should produce about 6,000 kWh of emissions-free electricity per year. This is the equivalent of 3.4 acres of US forest or driving nearly 10,000 miles LESS per year.

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

22. Is solar really viable in New England?
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!)

23. If we only get 80% of the sun 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 SRECs and tax credits. Homes with good solar potential should pay for themselves in 5 to 7 years and generate financial returns in excess of 15%. Homes with less sun have longer payback periods and lower returns but solar can still be a great investment in these situations. In the past, south-facing roofs were generally the rule for solar installations, but nowadays solar panels can be effective on east, south and west-facing roofs.

24. 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.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. Is there a leasing or power purchase agreement option available?
Equipment leasing is an arrangement in which the solar installer owns the panels on your roof and you pay a monthly flat fee to “rent” the panels and receive all of the electricity that the panels generate. Under a power purchase agreement (PPA), the installer again owns the panels and you pay for the electricity generated by the panels each month (which will vary by month). In both of these arrangements, the installer receives all of the tax credits and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Leases and PPAs may be good options for people who cannot take advantage of the tax benefits (e.g., are retired and do not have a large tax bill).

Experts who have studied this issue have concluded that if a homeowner can take advantage of the tax credits, it is more financially advantageous for him/her to own the system.

28. What is the status of Belmont Light’s policy on emission-free renewable energy facilities?
Belmont Light recently updated its tariff and policy on emission-free renewable energy facilities. The current tariff is effective on December 1, 2015 and is available here. Belmont Light’s tariff differs from full retail net metering offered by investor-owned utilities such as National Grid and Eversource.
Under Belmont Light’s policy, solar energy generated and immediately used onsite by host customer will not result in any charges to the customer. Any solar energy generated by host customers and fed back into the system of Belmont Light will be credited to the host customer’s account at a rate that currently is $0.11 per kWh. After December 31, 2017, this rate may be adjusted, as described in Section 1.06 of Belmont Light’s current policy.  Host customers will pay for all electricity delivered by Belmont Light to the host customer, at a rate reflecting the host customer’s applicable tariff.

29. What if my roof is not suitable to for solar PV? Can I still participate?
Yes, yeloha.com, a solar sharing service, is available. Also, members of BGS are exploring community solar. Your roof may also be suitable for solar hot water.

30. What else can I do to reduce my carbon footprint?
There are four easy things you can do right away. (1) take advantage of a Belmont Light grant to weatherize your home, and (2) go to the Mothers Out Front website and sign up for clean energy. (3) Also, consider an electric vehicle.  See BelmontDrivesElectric.org (4) contact Belmont Light about their heat pump options.

31. Links to additional resources
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has a number of valuable informational resources for solar on their website. They also administer the PTS (Production Tracking System) for recording solar production used to mint SRECs, the new MassSolarLoan program financed by DOER, manage community Solarize campaigns and many other state programs that support renewable energy in MA.