Somerville Solar Blog
We’ll be making a final push for folks who have had proposals to be sure that everyone is aware of the deadline. We’re reaching out with emails and phone calls. If you are in this situation, and you have final questions--be sure to let us know. We are happy to discuss final issues that might be coming up for you.
Email me (Mary, volunteer solar coach) at this address: email@example.com, or call Christine Andrews at the city 617-625-6600 ext. 2567, or visit www.somervillema.gov/solarize.
But we knew that neighbors talking to each other was going to be a really helpful. One of the interesting things about these conversations, though, is what we learned about the barriers to solar adoption. I’m going to cover a few here, because it might be something that other folks have faced. And maybe we can straighten out some misconceptions.
1. Some folks have been turned off by aggressive solar vendors
We have been hearing that people were irritated by uninvited phone calls, and being chased down the aisle at Big Box Hardware. Some people even had contracts in the past but disliked the used-car-sales vibe they were getting.
We learned: Many folks we talked to were hugely relieved that our program had a state and city support framework that included vetting our vendor in ways they couldn’t even hope to; during our proposal review, we had the city’s electrical inspector on the panel. We even had technical support on assessing the equipment from the MassCEC and residents review the applications in an official process with the city project team. Try that at your house! It seemed to assuage some of the fears people had in the past. SolarFlair Energy, the selected partner for Somerville residents, does not participate in these types of high pressure sales tactics.
2. Some folks were previously told their site wasn’t suitable.
It turns out that some folks who were interested in the past were told by some vendors that their house wasn’t a suitable site for solar. In fact, this meant that it wasn’t suitable to the investors who had very stringent criteria for the houses they would put panels on. For the leasing situations, some outfits will only choose houses that have perfect sun alignment, roof angles, no nearby trees, and a Stonehenge model in the backyard. And they won’t touch condos.
We learned: Certainly it’s true that some sites aren’t suitable. There are some basic laws of physics that govern photons hitting panels that have to be obeyed. But there’s a wider range of suitable situations than some people have been told. And sometimes newer equipment--the microinverters that are now widely used--can help people who previously had too much shading. Also, some people no longer have the trees that appeared on their satellite image. So if you were told “no” in the past, it might be worth another look with our program. SolarFlair is more flexible than some of the other providers. Try the site visit. Just in case things changed.
3. Some of you have challenging roof situations and were declined in the past.
Going into this, we knew that there were people in Somerville with slate roofs. So we kept that in mind during proposal reviews. And we’ve talked to a lot of people who were told before they wouldn’t be able to have solar on slate. Also, some people with flat or rubber roofing were told they couldn’t go solar.
We learned: You can have solar on slate roofs. It requires special equipment and costs a bit more, but the vendor we choose assured us that they will accept this challenge. And our partner will also do flat and rubber roofs, so we’ve had neighbors who were now able to solarize as a result. Our program includes more roof styles than many others will.
4. There are many multi-family and condo arrangements in Somerville.
We certainly knew going in that only about 12% of homes in the ‘Ville are single-family. And multi-families can be owned by multiple family members or even co-owned by friends, like mine. Condos can have roof rights that are structured in various ways. In some cases, say a triple-decker, the top floor resident might have the roof. In others, it’s owned equally by each unit. Or sometimes it’s proportional to your condo square footage.
We learned: Conversations among the co-owners can take longer and require some additional paperwork. But people want to understand how to do solar in density situations. The turnout for our multi-unit event surprised us. And the state’s document "A Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations in Massachusetts" was really popular. With guidance and information, it can happen.
5. People could use help with roof updates/repair.
Some people have old roofs. Unfortunately, this can cost some money and take some time before installing panels become possible. Although the terrific MassSolarLoan can help people pay for a solar array, it doesn’t include a new roof budget.
We learned: People would like future incentive options to include roof help. It’s too big a bite at once to do the roof and the array for some folks. We’ll give that feedback into the program. Some people were relieved to hear that one you sign a contract, though, you can have a year to finish. So having a bit of extra time helped out and took the pressure off. Plus, if you’re thinking about owning your panels, the 30% federal tax credit may also include improvements made in preparation for installing solar, such as certain roof work.
6. Renters want solar too. And some people with unsuitable roofs could use this as well.
The way the current MassCEC Solarize programs are designed, there’s not much to offer for renters. We hoped to include a “community solar” type of option where you can purchase a piece of production from an array not on your roof.
We learned: Adding a community solar partner to these programs would be a great future direction. Or maybe a dedicated community solar program to follow the residential roof one. We hear you, and we’ll give this feedback into the program as well. We also offered folks energy audits to help people reduce their footprint so they can take a whole-home approach to energy-efficiency even if they can’t go solar right now.
So we learned things. And we’d like to learn more. Let us know if you had these barriers, or other issues we didn’t cover. Part of our mission was educational--to teach the neighbors about going solar. But educational for us, learning what might prevent this green energy choice. Email me with your thoughts if you want to tell me about it. firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear your ideas, and I can give them back to the city and the MassCEC folks.
In this video you’ll meet Mark Stern, who contacted us as soon as he heard about our program. He compared it with a quote he already had, and saw the benefits of our project right away. He’s been a real champion for solarizing, and we thank him so much for keeping us posted on the progress at his house. And he let the news crew come by and chat as well--you can see the shiny new panels at his home. Thanks so much to the SNN crew for telling this terrific community story.
Sign up for your free site assessment and see if you can benefit from this program at your home. By the way: this video was completed before we got our program extension to allow for site visits through November 23. And now neighbors will have until December 16, 2016 to sign the final contract documents to participate in these special incentives. So you still have time, but act soon.
Through Solarize Somerville, nearly 60 residents having signed contracts and an additional 70 completed site visits. Our community is only 20 solar power systems away from our goal of installing 400 kW of solar power in Somerville. If we reach our goal, SolarFlair will donate a 5 kW system to a local nonprofit. To schedule your site visit, sign up at www.somervillema.gov/sustainaville/solarize. Site visits are free and there is no obligation to purchase panels. For more information, email Mary, Somerville resident and Solar Coach, at email@example.com or visit www.somervillema.gov/sustainaville/solarize.
Residents who have questions about their solar projects are invited to stop by City Hall Annex at 50 Evergreen Avenue, Somerville, second floor, Thursday, November 10, 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Residents will have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Christine Andrews, City of Somerville Housing and Environment Programs Coordinator; Mary Mangan, resident and Solar Coach; and Brian Hession, SolarFlair representative. Residents who have signed their contracts are invited to stop by to pick up a free Solarize Somerville t-shirt or hat.
As a SolSmart Bronze designee, Somerville is receiving national recognition for adopting programs and practices that make it faster, easier, and cheaper to go solar. A SolSmart designation is a signal that the community is “open for solar business,” helping to attract solar industry investment and generate economic development and local jobs. Somerville is the first community in the Commonwealth to be designated SolSmart.
To achieve designation, cities and counties take steps to reduce solar “soft costs,” which are non-hardware costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Soft costs now represent roughly two-thirds of the total price of an installed residential system. Reducing these costs leads to savings that are passed on to consumers. Communities that take sufficient actions are designated either gold, silver, or bronze, and can continue to strive for higher designations.
Six ways Somerville has helped to reduce soft costs and barriers to solar:
- Provides user-friendly online resources, including a solar resource page, a solar permitting checklist, and online submission and approval processes for permitting, scheduling, and inspections.
- Supports community group-purchase programs, like Solarize Somerville, running through October 31st.
- Created Commission on Energy Use and Climate Change, a group of engaged residents who help to advise the Mayor on energy-related decisions. These meetings are open to the public and encourage discussions about local sustainability plans.
- Conducted a site feasibility analysis for public facilities and to identify new possible locations for solar on City properties.
- Coordinating with neighboring communities, and regional and state agencies to engage distribution companies about solar.
- Launched in April 2016, SolSmart aims to designate 300 communities during the three-year, federally funded program. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Learn more at energy.gov/sunshot.
So we wanted to just quickly remind you that the Solarize Somerville pricing requires a site visit by October 31 2016. You have a couple of more weeks to review the proposal and finish the decisions, but that contract needs to be signed and wrapped up by November 18 2016.
The site visit is fun and informative--check out the story of the Mayor’s site visit if you haven’t already seen it, and watch that video. As described there, you’ll get a detailed proposal with all the data you need about your setting, the costs and the benefits, and the expected payback period.
C’mon: join us in producing more green power on our Somerville homes. Take the first step with the consultation site visit by filling out the form here.
The City of Somerville is running a program called Somerville Energy Efficiency Now (SEEN). Somerville Energy Efficiency Now is a program brought to you by the City of Somerville Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development and Office of Sustainability and Environment to help educate Somerville residents and enable them to advantage of energy-efficiency incentives available, help lower utility bills, make homes more comfortable, and help reduce carbon emissions. The program has even gained state-wide recognition for its energy efficiency initiatives.
The Mass Save program entitles eligible residents to a no-cost Home Energy Assessment. A Home Energy Assessment will help you save money, live more comfortably, and help lower carbon emissions. During a Home Energy Assessment, you’ll receive
• A health and safety check for carbon monoxide as well as knob and tube wiring and a visual review for mold, mildew and asbestos
• Access to rebates and incentives, including no-cost sealing of air leaks and 75% off up to $2,000 on eligible insulation improvements
• Access to an interest-free Mass Save HEAT loan to assist with costs for qualified upgrades
• The City of Somerville also offers forgivable loans to homeowners wanting to replace faulty or inefficient heating systems. The maximum loan amount is $4,000 and will be forgiven after three years. Income restrictions apply. Learn about this and other programs by calling 617-625-6600 ext. 2577.
What’s more, if Somerville residents complete their Mass Save no-cost Home Energy Assessments now through December 31st, our community will earn up to $39,000 for energy efficiency initiatives. We could put that money to use to help us reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
To schedule your assessment today, contact Mass Save:
- Renters, landlords, and owners of 1-4 unit properties call 866-527-7283
- Renters, landlords, and owners of properties with 5 or more units call 1-800-594-7277
- Residents of properties with 5 or more units owned or operated by a non-profit entity or public housing authority call 617-348-6425
A site visit consultation takes about an hour, is free, and there is no obligation to sign up for solar afterward. The orientation of your roof, the structures and features of your site, nearby trees, and other factors will be assessed. Having your electric bill handy helps the solar specialist evaluate how much solar power could help you reduce your current electrical expenses.
Brian explained that after the site assessment, he and his team will create a proposal, answer any other questions, and then work with homeowners to create a system design. The proposal will show you the expected production over the years, the options you have for equipment, the anticipated costs, and other key details that you would need to make a decision.
Again, there’s no obligation just from receiving the site visit. The Solarize team is happy to come and have this discussion with you; there’s no commitment at that point.
The Mayor’s house turned out to be a good candidate for solar panels and he is reviewing his options. In the meantime, he’s leading the City’s overall efforts to reach Somerville’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050 as a city. Click here to sign up for your own site visit!
But we also know that some people have been unable to go solar at this time, for a variety of reasons. One of the great things about the MassCEC, who selected Somerville as a Solarize community and helped us with many aspects, is that they are actively trying to understand and reduce the barriers to renewable energy adoption. The more they know about what makes people hesitate or decline to solarize, the better they can advocate for new strategies or design new efforts.
They’ve asked us to pass along this survey, because they want your opinions on this. As folks who have been immersed in our discussions so recently, your input would be especially timely and helpful. It will only require a few minutes. And there’s a chance to win a gift certificate!
So if you could take the time to help us understand the issues, we’d appreciate that.
Are you a commercial property owner with ample roof space interested in exploring way to reduce your energy bills?
We know that there are barriers to installing solar in a dense, urban city such as Somerville but we need your feedback to better understand these barriers so that the Commonwealth can continue to develop initiatives to improve solar access.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has contracted with ICF International and Sustainable Energy Advantage (SEA) to conduct an online survey to capture valuable information needed to better understand the barriers to solar adoption in Massachusetts.
The survey will discuss solar access in the context of four discreet market sectors:
- 1-4 family new residential construction at the time of solar installation
- 1-4 unit existing residential property for rental
- Manufacturing or industrial facilities
- Small and medium commercial rooftops and parking canopies
Please consider forwarding the survey link to any applicable parties that you think might be able to provide feedback.
To begin the survey, please click this link - https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MassCECSolar
Please complete the survey by October 14. Your voice is very important!
If you have any questions about this research process or the survey, please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Thank you for your commitment to expanding solar access across Massachusetts!
If you’d like to wander by 65 Main St in Somerville, we can discuss our solar experience with you. No appointment required–just drop by.
I can show you the production meter (that records our total roof output), the net meter (which is attached to my unit) and runs backwards when we are producing more power than we are using, and my housemate’s meter. We use “virtual net metering” with the Schedule-Z to assign our overproduction credits to my housemate’s bill. I can explain that in more detail if that’s an issue you want to learn about as well.
We can talk about what we did in the attic–our rafters needed to be reinforced, and we’ll have photos of that.
I’ll have copies of my electric bill you can see. I’ll show you my first SRECII (solar renewable energy certificates) credits that have come through--our roof is now sending us money!
For years we’ve also had solar hot water, and I can explain how we set that up to serve both units in our house as well.
So if you’ve been interested in solar, but want to actually see what it looks like, please drop by! I’ll have balloons out front so you can spot our house, and signs to point you to our setup. There are a few stairs involved, just so you’ll know.
We can talk in more detail about the Solarize Somerville program features as well, if you have questions.
Note: We’re just 3 blocks off Broadway--don’t go too far or you’ll pass us. We are *right* on the Medford line, and the numbers on Main St. jump up into the 500s after you pass my house and find yourself in Medford.
By Mary Mangan, Somerville Solar Coach
Elizabeth Youngblood, Senior Project Manager on the Solar Team at MassCEC
(Jump to Elizabeth’s presentation)
In this section, Elizabeth describes the MassCEC, and the goals of Solarize Mass program. Over 50 communities have taken advantage of this. It delivers educational outreach, but also reduces the cost of solar for participants. She describes how this works in general. The program success is illustrated--most communities double the amount of solar in their city during the course of the program. Somerville has ~150 solar homes already, and they think we can double this! At around 9min, she covers the basics of Solar electricity with photovoltaic panels (PV). It covers how much sun we get, our electricity rates, costs and adoption of solar over time and the success in our state.
Julia Danahy, Project Administrator at MassCEC
(Jump to Julia’s presentation)
Julia describes the incentives available to our residents. These included Federal and State tax credits, SRECs (solar renewable energy credits), net metering, and the MassSolarLoan program. This part seemed to generate the most questions from our neighbors, so this might be a good segment to take a look at if you have questions on these issues. It’s the stuff that matters as you consider the costs, benefits, and the payback times on your potential solar PV installation project.
Dan Barnett, SolarFlair representative, Somerville’s selected installer partner
(Jump to Dan’s presentation)
Dan covers some of the history of SolarFlair (a MA company) and their experience and credentials, what makes a good site for solar, the types of equipment available with our program, and some of the process details. He shows what happens on your roof, and describes the warranties you get for both installation and equipment. If you want to review the exact panels and other equipment you can choose such as inverters--that part starts around 47min. At just past the hour (1hr:04min) he expands on the incentives like the tax credits and SRECs that Julia had touched upon. Just after that Dan describes our set pricing structure in this program, with a base price of $2.88/watt (~1hr:12min). There are financing options addressed at about 1hr:16min. If you don’t want to own the panels, you can choose a Power Purchase Agreement, PPA. That’s discussed just after the financing piece.
Mary Mangan, volunteer Solar Coach for Solarize Somerville
(Jump to Mary’s presentation)
My talk covers essentially the same ground as my project intro video, with the backstory on our project, our plans to do outreach, and key dates like the October 31 deadline for getting a site visit. I also describe the community benefit project if we hit our installation milestones: SolarFlair will donate a solar array to our community. So join us to get solar for a worthy cause!
By Mary Mangan, Somerville volunteer Solar Coach
On August 16 2016 we held a public presentation of the information we’ve assembled to help our neighbors to understand the issues and possible solutions. We had over 100 folks from several communities who wanted to learn about solarizing! The slides for the presentation are now available, and you can see them below. They can be downloaded from the SlideShare site as well.
For a quick text overview, I’ll just note here what we covered. You can see the agenda on slide 2. The representatives from Cambridge (slides 2-14) and Somerville (slides 15-19) presented some details about their respective programs. Both cities are eager to help residents reduce their environmental impact with their solar programs. You can see information about the very similar goals each city has for reducing emissions. Somerville data also includes a breakdown of how many of our residents are in multi-unit settings which is very interesting and helps to provide context for the challenge we face.
I provided a bit of information about our program, but for the full backstory you should see our intro video. But I also provided a look at how the experience in our 2-family house on Winter Hill was going. I showed a sample electric bill, and how my housemate and I split the production from our solar panel array (see slide 27).
The part about the guidance for various situations really begins on slide 29. The consultants from Zapotec who are working with the Sunny Cambridge program present a number of cases to illustrate different scenarios for solarizing in multi-units. They have flow-diagrams of ways to approach the matter from your situation that should help you work through the possibilities.
A representative from Naveo (formerly known as the Portuguese Credit Union) also presented some helpful details about the MassSolarLoan program (starts on slide 54).
Have a look at the information from the presentations. If you also wanted access to that large PDF document on condo issues that we had only in limited printed versions, access that here: "A Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations in Massachusetts". But if you have further questions, be sure to contact our teams from our websites. We would be happy to discuss the issues, or connect you with the appropriate folks to get you the answers.
By Mary Mangan, Somerville volunteer Solar Coach
We explored resources from the state of Massachusetts, including the MassCEC resources such as: Get Clean Energy. We wanted to understand the concepts and rules of the “net metering” program that the utilities do for accommodating your power production on the grid. That’s how they clock your usage and credit you for your production.
The MA Attorney General’s office has some nice information for folks considering solar: AG Healey Offers Advice To Homeowners Considering Solar Panel Installations. Maura Healey also tweeted this handy quick guide to solar:
Beside the technical issues around the power itself and the incentives, we had to think about how this worked in a 2-family home. We both own the home, we had 2 separate electrical meters, and we had to work out how to divvy up the power from our shared roof. We opted to net-meter my account, and use the “Schedule-Z” form to assign production credits to my housemate’s account. That is called “virtual net metering”, and it’s how we share our production.
The state also provides a terrific Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Leases, Loans, and PPAs that you should explore if you are considering those options.
We paid attention to the tax credits. We weren’t sure at the time if the federal and state solar tax credits were going to be renewed, but those are definitely in place now, for the next few years. Tax credits are available to homeowners who purchase solar arrays outright, and those who use the MassSolarLoan program.
We also needed to understand the SREC system. These are the “Solar Renewable Energy Credits” that you get in addition to your production credits from the utility on your utility bill. These are your sort of green power production coupons that are earned based on how much green power you make. They are auctioned to groups like the utilities that need to buy green power credits, and you get the money for them. Here’s a wonky overview of how they work: Understanding Massachusetts’ SREC Auction Program. A slightly less nerdy piece that explains RECs can be found here: RECs, which put the "green" in green electricity, explained. The SRECs are figured into the “payback” period for your solar panel purchase. Important note: currently the state is in the process of moving from SRECII to an SRECIII program. If you are interconnected to the utility by January 8 2017, you’ll get the current SRECII values. After that, you may get a different value, but we don’t know what that is just yet. This means to get the current incentive values you need to act soon and be interconnected by early January 2017.
It wasn’t available at the time we made our decision, but there’s a recent booklet on solar for condo situations that would have really helped us to think through the issues: A Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations in Massachusetts. If this is a concern of yours, be sure to keep an eye out for a special educational session on multi-family and condo situations that will serve Somerville and Cambridge residents.
Basically, you need to check your site for suitability, and then do some math to see if solar is right for you. See if you qualify for the MassSolarLoan opportunities--which are really worth looking at. Evaluate your tax situation, can you take advantage of the tax credits? Understand the differences between owning and a PPA. Join us at our educational and outreach events if you want to learn more, or if you have questions about these things.
By Mary Mangan, Somerville volunteer Solar Coach
The answer is yes. And for the last six months, our rooftop solar panels have been delivering homemade artisanal electrons to power our appliances and electronics (see our production chart below for a 9.1kW system, or look at this 4kW array data from Somerville High School). But on those snowy and foggy days, we still have power because we are still on the grid. When our panels are making electricity, we use it. When we produce more than we need, it goes back to the grid to share the green power with our neighbors. We get credits for the power we don’t use, which we can apply to our bills in the dark days of December. We’ve been pleased about putting our roof to work for us and for our neighbors.
It all came about last year, around this time. My housemate Bill (we share a 2-family home on Winter Hill) arrived home one afternoon with a story about his colleague. This co-worker was describing the installation of panels on his home. It was a way for him to obtain a secure price for electricity over the next few years, by letting a third-party organization put solar panels on his roof and generate power. In exchange for access to his roof, the company maintains the panels and production data, and they generate power to sell. The homeowner contracts with that company for electricity at a certain price which is lower than they currently pay to the utility, which is guaranteed for the term of the contract. With little or no money down, a lease or PPA (Power Purchasing Agreement) was right for his situation.
For our home, solar was a good deal economically and environmentally. Some people are interested in the energy cost savings. Some people like the independence of solar, from a yankee do-it-yourself perspective. Some people want to reduce our country’s reliance on foreign energy sources. Some want to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint. For us, it was all of the above.
If you’ve been considering solar, or would just like to know more about it, the Solarize Somerville program can help you to learn about the technology and the current incentives. We’ll be having educational events, and opportunities to meet with Solarize volunteers, or we can speak to your group about the program. We’ll talk about owning or the leasing/PPA types of arrangements. We’ll help explain some hurdles with multi-family situations. And we’ll explain how the Solarize Somerville program can connect you with a vetted installer who offers special pricing for our city, as the Solarize program is a way to make a sort of group purchase of solar among our neighbors.
Sign up to get Solarize Somerville project notifications here.
By Mary Mangan, Somerville volunteer Solar Coach
Solarize Somerville was initiated by folks in our city, who are interested in reducing our city’s greenhouse gas footprint and exploring other energy efficiencies. Russell Koty (Housing Program Manager) and Oliver Sellers-Garcia (Director of Sustainability and Environment) wrote a successful grant application to the Solarize Mass program. That’s an effort guided by the MassCEC (Massachusetts Clean Energy Center) and the DOER (Department of Energy Resources). It’s a framework that helps communities to create and run a program to educate residents and business owners, and to connect them with a way to go solar with a selected vendor. Because there is a whole community involved, program participants typically get reduced pricing over an what an individual purchase might cost. It’s a group commitment among our neighbors, and the costs are reduced for all of the folks who chose to be involved, because of the size of the group.
When all of the administrative pieces are complete, we’ll be rolling out a series of outreach and awareness events. There will be educational meetings, booths at local events, and various other opportunities to learn about solar power options for your home or business. We’ll talk about the benefits, the challenges, the costs, and financing options. We’ll have notices about those events, and a calendar, to help you connect with us. You aren’t required to attend meetings if you wish to participate--but we’d like to connect with you so you’ll have as much information as possible to make a decision.
So check back here for more details as the program rolls out, and sign up for our mailing list if you would like to be notified of upcoming information and events.
(photo credit: E. Johnston)