Make Your Own Electricity
As seen in the Duxbury Clipper, January 20, 2016.BY DICK ROTHSCHILD
If you haven’t gotten around to making your New Year’s resolution yet or are reluctant to make one for fear that you won’t keep it, read on. I’ve got a doozy of a resolution for you for 2016.
Make your own electricity.
Think of it: you can partner with the sun in a declaration of independence from your utility company. And, because I know it is hard to keep a resolution without a plan to keep it, I’m going to suggest a simple one to help you realize your goal at the end of this column. Going solar in 2016, by either having solar panels installed on your roof or property or by buying electricity from a solar source, will beget two handsome paybacks, one financial and the other, personal – the satisfaction that comes from doing good. On the one hand, you’ll slash your electricity bills. On the other, you’ll help reduce our fossil fuel dependence and put the brakes on global warming.
Consider going solar from an investment standpoint. If, in 2015, you had put the money you could have invested in a solar installation in a stock fund which tracked the S & P 500 index, the value of your investment would have been about the same at the end of the year as at the beginning and you would have earned just over two percent in dividends. The same investment in a solar installation would likely have returned you 1015 percent or more. And, over the next 15-20 years with the likelihood of higher electric utility bills, investing in solar panels or buying your electricity from a solar source at a fixed rate could further increase your returns.
But, going solar is more than a pocketbook issue. Even with fracking, in 2014 we were still importing 27 percent of the petroleum we were using in the U.S. By getting more of our electricity from renewable sources such as solar, we can shrink that percentage. Doing so will reduce carbon emissions and pollution. Your residential solar panel system alone, if typical, will eliminate three to four tons of carbon emissions per year, the CO² reduction equivalent of planting 100 trees every year.
Good enough, but what about the initial investment? Average residential solar systems in the U.S. cost $15,000 - $30,000 once the solar Investment Tax Credit and other incentives are taken into account. That’s in the same ballpark as the cost of a new car.
While, as with buying a car, a cash purchase is one way to go, there are also several financing options which can bring the benefits of a solar system to almost every homeowner: a solar loan, solar lease or third party ownership. A solar loan allows homeowners to borrow the cost of the installation from a solar company (often called a “full service solar developer”), or a bank, credit union, public-private partnership, green bank or utility. To smooth the process, The MASS Solar Loan program (a partnership between Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center) can connect homeowners with those lenders who offer low-interest solar loans. This program will also pay a portion of the loan for qualifying applicants whose annual household incomes are $80,240 or below. Another option is a solar lease under which the solar developer installs and owns the home solar system which the homeowner leases from the developer by making scheduled payments (usually monthly) for 15-25 years. There are no up-front costs.
A third option is a solar power purchase agreement under which a solar company buys, installs and maintains the home solar system and enters into a long term contract with the homeowner who buys the electricity generated at a fixed rate, lower than that charged by the electric utility.
To help you better understand and find the best plan for you, attend the Duxbury Solar Energy Panel presentation on Thursday, February 25 at the library. The panel is jointly sponsored by Sustainable Duxbury and the Duxbury Free Library. You’ll get detailed information from experts and answers to any questions you may have. It is free and there will be no sales representatives on the panel. You’ll hear from the Mass Clean Energy Center, EnergySage, and Duxbury residents who have solar panel systems installed at their homes. A list of solar system vendors will be available. Put down the time, date and place: Thursday, February 25 at 7 p.m. in the Merry room at the Duxbury Free Library, 77 Alden Street.
And, oh yes, one last thing. Resolve to be there.