Solar Panels on House

How to go Solar in Belmont

With the recently passed solar tariff many Belmont residents can put up solar panels with a reasonable expectation of a return on investment of less than ten years and some could see a return substantially sooner.  While many people choose to go solar to decrease their carbon footprint and improve the lives of future generations, they are also interested in keeping an eye on the financial consequences of their decision.   So, how should one start?

For most residential, condo, and commercial property owners the first step should be to get involved with the Belmont Goes Solar campaign.  The campaign is described here.  Briefly, Belmont Goes Solar is a town sponsored group purchase arrangement with a preferred installer, Direct Energy Solar,  that allows residents to get discounted rates and preferred treatment.  For further information you should email admin@BelmontGoesSolar.org.

Another reasonable step might be checking out Project Sunroof, Google’s new service that estimates the average amount of sun reaching a given home’s rooftop over the course of a year.   Homes whose roofs are shaded by trees or buildings are not good candidates for solar arrays.  On the other hand, homes with large exposed southern-facing roofs work wonderfully.   Project Sunroof takes all this into account and gives you a good sense of whether it makes sense to look into solar further.    If you have any questions contacting Belmont Goes Solar or the preferred installer, Direct Energy, will certainly make sense as installers will have more detailed information about whether your property is a candidate for solar.

Deciding on how to finance the project is an important decision.   The two major models are ownership and leasing.   For most people owning the array is the better financial decision because all the financial benefits, including the federal and state incentives, accrue to the homeowner.  However ownership means coming up with a large chunk of cash or taking out a loan.  Many lease agreements require no upfront money at all and the solar company is responsible for all maintenance.   However all the financial incentives (SRECs and the Investment Tax Credit) go to the installer.

If one does want to own the array but can’t come up with the cash to buy it outright then taking out a home-equity loan (or line) will often be the best course.   Interest rates on these loans are often quite low and interest payments may be tax deductible.  There are also specific solar loans available and the state DOER (Department of Energy Resources) just launched a Mass Solar Loan program which gives very favorable interest rates and is open to moderate income residents, renters, and those with low credit scores.  Check it out here.

Until very recently it looked like the Investment Tax Credit program was going to end December 31, 2016.  However it was just extended giving potential solar hosts more breathing room in deciding about going solar.  But there are still very good reasons to act quickly.  The biggest one is certainly the termination of the SREC-2 program some time in 2016 when total solar capacity in Massachusetts reaches 1600 MW.   A new state solar incentive program to replace SREC-2  is being actively debated in the legislature but there are good reasons to believe it won’t be nearly as generous as the SREC-2 program.  So going solar now, during Belmont’s solar campaign still makes excellent sense.

Deciding whether the project makes financial sense is an individual decision that should be discussed with your chosen solar installer.  The general issues involved in the figuring out the financial implications of going solar are discussed here.

This is a great time to go solar.  The industry is relatively mature and the financial benefits are probably as good as they will ever be—at least for the next few years.  So if you have ever thought of going solar, the time is definitely now to join other residents in Belmont Goes Solar.