By George Harvey
Solar ‘PV’ systems save homeowners money. A system that has been financed 100% can be paid off in six to twelve years, in most cases in the Northeast when they are appropriately sited. After that, they just produce electricity, requiring very little maintenance.
Not only do the systems save money on the electric bills, they also add to the value of a house where they are sited. According to a study released early this year from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, (bit.ly/solar-price-premiums) a typical solar system can add $15,000 to the value of a house, roughly $4 per watt.
The combination of savings and added value can mean upwards of $35,000 for an average household in Massachusetts, over a twenty-year period.
There are many ways to have solar systems installed. Until the end of 2016, a federal tax incentive is available in amounts up to $7,500. To take advantage of this, the system owner has to owe federal taxes that can be avoided. For a person who has less tax burden than that, there may be other ways to benefit from the incentive. For instance, anyone who pays to install the system can take advantage of the incentive, and that includes any company doing the work, any bank financing it, or any wealthy relative who wants to help out. One installer I know will reduce the price for one or more panels in a community system from $4 per watt to $3, lease the panels to the person who ordered them until they are paid off, and then gift them to that person.
Net-metering, a system that varies from one state to another in its specifics, is an important consideration. Net-metering means that if a person’s solar panels produce more than is immediately needed, the excess can be put on the grid, with the value banked until it is needed. The net-metering system gives a person the ability to save daytime solar power for nighttime use and credit for power from the summer into the winter. Since solar power comes at traditional peak demand times in the summer, it can actually lower wholesale prices for the utilities, lowering all consumers’ costs.
Some homeowners’ roofs are really not suitable for a solar system, and renters typically have no roof at all. For those without a suitable site, many states allow community solar. The nature of community solar varies widely. In some cases, it simply consists of a group of friends and neighbors hiring a solar installer to put in panels owned by individuals, with the owner of the land getting a benefit, such as a lease on the land used. Just a few families are all that’s required to build systems of this type..
There may be loans and grants available. One can pay cash, but it is possible to get low-interest loans on solar systems these days, because banks and other institutions have become accustomed to financing them. In some places, non-profit lenders offer financing at very low rates for people on limited budgets. It can really pay to look around to find what is available locally. Solar installers often are helpful sources for contact information.
Of course, the easiest approach, and quite possibly the least costly in the long run, is to pay cash for a system. A system at a house can be sold along with it. When an owner of panels in a community system moves, solar panels can be sold but often need not be. People who move within the area of their utility may be able to keep the solar panels in community systems, switching them to the account at the new location.
One thing that has to be pointed out again and again is that people who invest in solar systems often have their total costs go down immediately, even if the systems are 100% financed. This may run counter to what many people expect, because we are all used to the idea that renewable power is expensive. Times have changed, however, and if you want to save the planet, secure the future for you children, and be a benefactor of the earth and humanity, you can actually help do it today while saving money.
A solar system is no longer a rich person’s toy. It can provide power for all of us.