As we in Duxbury join 41 other Massachusetts towns and cities to ban thin film, single use plastic bags, we can look at plastics in general to try to understand the problem some of these plastic products can cause. France has decided to take on all plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. Click here to read more about it.
President Obama spoke to The Times on climate change while visiting Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Click here to see the full dialogue.
Panel on Solar Panels
As published in the Duxbury Clipper, March 2, 2016
Going Solar: Residents Share Stories of Savings
BY GRAEME GROOMBRIDGE CLIPPER REPORTER
Getting utility bills in the mail doesn’t tend to bring a smile to one’s face. But for homeowners with solar panels installed on their property, getting their electricity bill is now a much more sunny experience.
On February 25, the Duxbury Free Library and Sustainable Duxbury co-sponsored a free informational presentation on solar energy. The “Panel on Solar Panels” provided an opportunity to hear from Duxbury residents about what it’s like to install and own solar panels. Experts at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and EnergySage discussed the benefits and complexities of owning and installing solar systems.
Panel members and Duxbury residents James Kerkam, Jeanne Marie Pennvenne, and Pam Magnarelli spoke about their experiences.
For Kerkam, of 226 Washington Street, getting his bill “is like Christmas all over again…At our house, we’ve got a reversing meter. It’s great!” Kerkam showed one of his electrical bills from the previous year, saying that “there were three months where I paid nothing. And all the rest of them are very much reduced from what I normally pay. I have a 4,000 square foot house. My bill last month was about $40.”
Kerkam’s 21 panel, 6.3 kilowatt system is located on the roof of his garage and was installed by E2 Solar of Dennis in 2014 for a total of $27,000. Pennvenne, of 162 Oak Street, hired Alvin Hollis to install a ground mounted solar module on her property in 2009. The unit consists of 20 panels and cost $39,000. Magnarelli, of 45 Walker Road, has a 13 panel unit on the south-facing roof of her home and said that her system cost $36,000 in 2014.
Though the three residents each acknowledged the hefty cost of installation, they all agreed on two things: they’re happy to know they’re helping the environment and feel they made a wise investment. Magnarelli estimates that her system will pay for itself in roughly nine years from the date of installation.
Penvenne, whose groundmounted system saved the oldgrowth shade tree that covers her home, said “We know why we did this. We did this for our carbon footprint and for our grandchildren…For now, we’re just really happy we’re not paying electricity bills.”
There are incentives for solar panel owners that help to cover the cost of installation. Magnarelli got a $2,700 signing rebate, applied for a $1,700 dollar energy credit from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, got a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost when she filed her federal income taxes and received an additional $1,000 dollars back when she filed her state income taxes.
“After the first year, with the energy credits and the tax rebates, we were down to 55 percent of the original cost,” Magnarelli said.
Within that first year, Magnarelli generated three SRECs, or Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which “ended up giving us, in pocket, another $885 dollars,” she said.
Compared to the year prior to installation, Magnarelli’s household used $900 less in electricity. To further reduce costs and improve efficiency, she had a Mass Save energy audit and installed energy-efficient fixtures.
“We have not paid an electric bill since last April,” she said. “So we’ve had 11 months with no electric bill. We’re generating surpluses from April to November.”
By last November, Magnarelli had built up a credit with Eversource for about $275 dollars. Penvenne said that her first year experience mirrored that of Magnarelli’s, and that after all of her rebates, tax returns and credits, the cost of her system was down to $22,000. Similarly, her system regularly breaks even or generates a surplus of electricity.
In addtion to the three Duxbury homeowners, two people in the solar industry gave their perspectives. Andrew Belden, Director of Commonwealth Solar Programs for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, spoke about his organization and the in-depth information behind solar energy technology and Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage, explained how is company helps consumers with choosing a solar panel system.
“We’re a quasi-state agency in charge of developing a clean energy economy in Massachusetts,” said Belden. “We develop incentive programs that help grow the market. We make direct incentives to early-stage companies that are based in Massachusetts. We also make investments in clean energy infrastructure.”
Belden gave some statistics to illustrate the importance of the clean energy economy to Massachusetts.
“The solar energy market in Massachusetts is about $700 million per year, and there are currently around 42,000 solar systems in place in the Commonwealth. Last year, Massachusetts ranked fourth in the nation for the amount of solar systems installed, and there are approximately 15,000 individuals in our state employed in the solar energy field, second only to California,” Belden said. “Massachusetts really punches above its weight class in terms of solar.”
There are several types of technology that classify as ‘solar,’ but there are two that are prevalent in residential applications. There is solar hot water, a technology that’s been around for over 100 years. It works by using solar panels to heat tubes full of water which is then used to offset the need for electricity to make hot water. The other type is solar photovoltaic systems. This technology, developed in the 1950s and 1960s largely by NASA for use in space, is robust.
“Essentially,” Belden explained, it consists of “a wafer of silicone, which is what microchips are made out of, chemically treated so that when light hits it, it produces a current.”
That current can then be used to supply power to a home. But photovoltaic panels produce Direct Current, or DC power, and the majority of electricity supplied by the grid is Alternating Current, or AC power. Therefore, an inverter is needed to convert DC power to AC power, which can then be utilized to power appliances, etc.
“In Massachusetts, we have something called ‘net metering.’ So if you’re supplying that power to your home and you don’t have enough load in your home to use all that power, what you can do is actually export that power back to the grid,” Belden. The utility then compensates the homeowner for providing that power. That is a key part of what makes solar power so economical in this state. Another driver of the solar economy is the relatively high cost of electricity; it’s more efficient to generate power with solar than it is to buy it off of the grid from utilities.
“The utilities in Massachusetts are required to buy an increasing proportion of their power from renewable resources, and of those, a specific amount needs to come from solar that’s located within the Commonwealth,” Belden said about Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Household solar systems not only create power, but also generate certificates, which utilities need to reach compliance requirements. Selling SRECs to utilities gives the homeowner significant value. They are traded on the market and are subject to supply and demand with pricing provided by the state. SRECs can be generated for ten years.
Aggarwal of EnergySage (a company in which the MCEC invested) explained that homeowners have three options when buying a solar system: pay with cash, which translates to more cash out of pocket, but much more savings in the long run; take out a loan to purchase it, which involves no down payment but decreases savings; or have a third party install and own it. However, that company will get most of the benefits and savings are lowest.
EnergySage is an online solar marketplace. Aggarwal described it as “as the Kayak or Expedia of solar energy.” According to Aggarwam, EnergySage helps homeowners and business owners shop online for solar energy equipment and compare contractors and their credentials and ratings. Once signed up, a member identifies the location of the installation, sets their preferences and discloses their current electrical payments. EnergySage takes care of the rest. Pre-screened solar installers will create a system according to the homeowner’s needs and then submit quotes to the user via the EnergySage platform.
EnergySage provides a full listing of each contractor’s information, ratings, reviews and warranties. The quality of the equipment is also listed.
“Not all solar panels and inverters are made the same,” Aggarwam said. “There are the Hondas of solar equipment, and there are the Mercedes of solar equipment. Our goal is to help you understand that.”
This event was the third that the Duxbury Free Library and Sustainable Duxbury have co-sponsored. Sustainable Duxbury meets once a month on the first Wednesday, September through June.
In the January 20, 2016 issue of the Duxbury Clipper, in his "Thinking Green" column, Dick Rothschild laid out a number of reasons why either having solar panels installed on one’s roof or property, or buying electricity from a solar source, will beget two handsome paybacks—one financial and the other, the personal satisfaction that comes from doing good
On Thursday, February 25, 2016 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, a free Solar Energy Panel presentation, jointly sponsored by Sustainable Duxbury and the Duxbury Free Library, will be moderated by Duxbury’s State Representative Josh Cutler. Speakers include Andy Belden, Director of Solar PV Programs at the Mass Clean Energy Center; Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage; and Duxbury residents Jim Kerkam, Jeanne Penvenne and Pam Magnarelli who have solar panel systems installed on their homes or property. Kerkam and Penvenne’s experiences with solar are covered in this article. Magnarelli’s and several other residents’ will be included in the third “Make Your Own Electricity” article in the February 17th edition of the Duxbury Clipper.
For Jim Kerkam, the increasing cost of electricity motivated him to investigate PV (photovoltaic) panels. All of his research on efficiency of panels, manufacturers and local distributors was conducted online. He notes that if one wants to install a solar system, payback might not materialize if the house is sold within five years. He also recommends asking Duxbury’s Building Department to check the structure of one’s roof to see if it can support the system.
Kerkam’ s panels generate 75% of his electrical needs and while installing an owned solar system like his was expensive he really enjoys looking at his monthly electric bill to see how little electricity is being used as compared to prior years. He adds, “It’s also a good feeling to know that I am helping the environment.”
Duxbury resident Jeanne Penvenne took a very different approach to installing a solar panel system. Like Kerkam, she was interested in saving money and diminishing her carbon footprint. Because she did not want to take down a wonderful old tree that shades her house, she decided to install a 20-panel ground-based unit that would fit easily on the acre of property she owns.
Because she knew that the panels would be visible, and in consideration for her neighbors, she contacted them to anticipate any objections to a solar panel installation in her yard. Her neighbors had no objections. From a financial viewpoint, the Penvenne’s system breaks even or generates a surplus of electricity.
If you are interested in lowering your electric bill and want concrete information on installing a solar system, mark your calendar for Thursday evening, February 25, 2016 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm in the Merry Room of the Duxbury Free Library, 77 Alden Street, Duxbury. For more information contact Mike Wilson at email@example.com or check out www.sustainableduxbury.org.
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.
As published in the ELM (Environmental League of Massachusetts) Newsletter, November 19, 2015
After much tussling before the end of the fall legislative session, the House and Senate did not come to an agreement on solar reform legislation to lift the net metering cap and preserve reasonable and fair compensation for solar generators. We are grateful for your help communicating with your legislators to promote Massachusetts' innovative solar programs, which have brought over 12,000 jobs and a stable, local energy resource to our communities.
Unfortunately, the House waited far too long to act on solar after the Senate passed its version of solar reform in July. As our own Josh Craft noted earlier this week in Commonwealth Magazine (see story below), attempts at a compromise fell apart in the House, largely because of opposition by the state's utilities and large industry groups. The House's version of the solar reform bill would have damaging impacts on prospects for solar projects in the state, reducing the value of compensation through net metering for business, low-income housing, and municipally owned projects from a level equivalent of 17 cents/kWh to around 5 cents/kWh. This would be a 70% drop. Due to delays by the House, the Senate was forced to try and amend the weak House bill in a single day, and adopted amendments that would have been substantially better for future solar development in the state than what either the House or Governor Baker have put forward. Regrettably, the House refused to agree to the Senate's amendments, and time ran out for a compromise. We hope that when the Legislature returns early next year that they will act swiftly to lift the net metering caps so that solar projects can continue to proceed. Early action is even more important as solar developers race to secure additional federal tax credits, which expire at the end of 2016.
A Special Thanks...
We would like to extend special thanks to the legislators who stood up for a stronger and better solar policy. We thank in particular Representatives Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) and Denise Provost (D-Somerville) for voting against the House version, and also Representatives Frank Smizik (D-Brookline), Tom Calter (D-Kingston), Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), and Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) for their statements on the House floor. On the Senate side, we would like to thank Senator Ben Downing (D-Pittsfield) for leading the Senate efforts to fix the bill, as well as Senators Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), and Dan Wolf (D-Harwich).
Pilgrim Power Plant Closure
This just came in from the Environmental League of Massachusetts. It is a very good, non-partisan analysis of the impact of this recent news.
This week it was announced that Pilgrim's nuclear power plant will close by June 2019. As this major source of power is taken offline it is clear we need to find new sources of zero emissions energy to meet our mandatory greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) of 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
The good news is new data shows wind and solar power are competing with fossil fuel plants on price. Massachusetts' offshore wind resources alone, representing more than 4,000 megawatts of new capacity, is five times the capacity at Pilgrim. With our leaders debating whether we should build two new gas pipelines across our state, we should instead be harnessing our policy tools to bring online more local solar and onshore and offshore wind. This path forward will allow our state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maintain a reliable electricity supply, and grow our economy. Pilgrim's closure is an opportunity to continue on the path towards a clean energy future, rather than go backwards to greater reliance on fossil fuels. Read more about ELM's reaction in the Boston Globe.
Clean Energy Options After Pilgrim on NECN. Click here.
Shedding Light on LED's
From the "Thinking Green," column in the Duxbury Clipper by Dick Rothschild