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In the Pursuit of Solar... a Diary of Sorts...

Post in 'The Green Room' started by Mr. Kelly, Dec 5, 2011.

  1. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2009
    Messages:
    219
    Loc:
    Northern Worcester County, MA
    Hi All,

    Hope this holiday season is treating everyone well!

    My wife and daughter and I are in the pursuit of solar electricity as our latest house venture. Two years ago, it was the wood stove, which is working out really well (much warmer in our house), so now it's the solar pursuit.

    I write this diary entry, of sorts, for several purposes: A) it chronicles our experiences of pursuing solar energy, in case it could be of help to anyone who is along a similar path, but also: B) in case someone has ALREADY walked this path, and might be able to help by offering assistance.

    scenario:

    Up until a month ago, I had never really thought seriously about putting solar panels up on our house, given the enormous expense that I know they command, and the continual emptiness of our bank account. It just didn't seem in the cards for us. Then, on our local news channel, I heard a compelling advertisement from a company called Solar City, a California company offering something I hadn't heard before: leasing a system. No down. No maintenance. Sounded like a no brainer.

    Jump ahead a couple of weeks... we had the rep here a couple of times and signed on to do a 20 yr. lease. The contract can be nullified within a couple of weeks, should we decide to change/drop out. The terms of the lease are as follows:

    - 20 years
    - $0 down payment (good for poor folks like us!)
    - $30 a month payment for lease
    - $20 a month payment (per average) to National Grid (our local electric vendor)
    - our usual elec. bill is approx. $60.00/mos.
    - 16 panels - rooftop - approx. 4.3 mw
    - full purchase cost of system (after rebates) = $13,500
    - full 20 yr. warranty

    Facts: Our 255 year old house has some likely problems

    - gets a bunch of shade on the roof in the winter - trees that we aren't willing to part with...
    - has an older roof
    - we won't likely qualify for the MA state tax credit because of the shade (needs 80% of their calculation of direct exposure)
    - solar site visit guys may not even suggest our house as being a good candidate

    More Facts:

    We'll never own the panels, we'll never really break even, the main goal is to contribute our part to reducing carbon footprint, etc.. I was ready to live with all this.

    Now... recently, upon coming back on to Hearth, I notice the "Green Room" forum, and decide to take a look... On here are some great threads. One in particular, started by Slow1 (thank you boatloads, Erick!), gave his accounts of his pursuit. I asked a few questions to him, and one one in particular:

    What did he think of buying the panels outright, rather than leasing them?

    His answer was a fantastic financial analysis of why purchasing them will be a much better investment. I, or he, will surely share that conversation, should anyone be interested.

    So.... right now, I'm researching the best way to finance this project. Last night, I came across a MA energy/lending group out of Boston who offers 0-5% loans for solar candidates. I wasn't thinking I was going to need that portal, so I closed the webpage. Today, I find that I will likely need to look into this possibility, and now I can't find the name of this organization if my life depends on it.

    Anyone have ANY idea of the organization I'm thinking of??? Geeeze.

    Also, if anyone has any interesting ways of funding a system like this... maybe something creative, let me know... It would great to get folks to chime in.

    We would rather not have a big loan payment that isn't somehow funding itself in some ways. I'm hoping it can look something like this:

    loan of $13,500. Maybe $1,200 down, so loan = $12,300

    The monthly payment for the loan, plus expected SREC credits, has to be equal to or lower than the cost of our regular electric bill, at about $60.00/mo. (ok, a tad bit more and maybe we could be convinced)

    Am I pipe dreaming here?

    So, this is the first installment of many in our pursuit of solar serenity! Any input is welcomed!! Wish us luck!

    Mr. Kelly

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  2. GaryGary

    GaryGary Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2010
    Messages:
    291
    Loc:
    SW Montana
    Hi,
    I did not really follow the earlier thread you talk about, so maybe some of this has already been covered.

    If your main interest is reducing your carbon footprint, there are lots of ways to do this. Most people can find ways to reduce carbon emissions that are far more effective on lbs of carbon per dollar spent than solar PV. This is probably especially true in your case with the shading problem.

    I'd suggest that you look at some of the other things you might do to reduce your carbon emissions and see how they compare to the PV option.

    I have a PV system, and I've compared how well it did on energy saving and carbon emissions to other projects we've done -- have a look on this page: http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/PV/EnphasePV/Economics.htm under "How does PV compare to other solar or conservation?"
    Our 8 best non PV projects cost a total of $378 and saved 10,456 lbs of CO2 a year. The PV project cost $10,000 (before rebates) and saved 4500 lbs of CO2 a year. The best of the non PV projects were about 50 times more cost effective at reducing carbon emissions than the PV project.

    Your best projects will no doubt be different than ours were, but I think that most people will be able to find a good set of projects that will be quite cost effective in reducing CO2 emissions. Its mostly a matter of having a systematic way to find and then evaluate the projects you might use. The method we used is the Half Program: http://www.builditsolar.com/References/Half/Half.htm Have a look and see if it works for you.

    Gary
  3. Hunderliggur

    Hunderliggur Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Messages:
    602
    Loc:
    Lothian, MD
    I started out in solar energy in the 70's. After a short while I found if I really wanted a living I had to do something else. I guess I was too honest. Back then, the big solar application in California was pool heaters. The typical residential solar system would heat about 50% of the pool needs, the rest could be handled with a simple pool cover. However, if you started with the simple pool cover, you typically got 75%+ of the heating needs. Much more difficult to justify the solar in that scenario.

    Fast forward to the 21st century. Like you, I am capital strapped for adding a PV array. In my case I would have no problem doing the work myself but the equipment cost is high. I actually have a small system I put together 10+ years ago with a 4KW inverter and 600W of solar panels. To add it to my current house (it is in a shed right now), I would want to add new PV panels and batteries, plus mounting frames and wiring. Solar panel prices have dropped dramatically in the last few years. Not long ago they were $5.00/watt. Now I can get name brand panels, but with cosmetic defects, for $1.50/watt. I am still not springing for the 5000 watts I would like to install yet. I'll wait until we get a few more bankruptcy sales from the Solendra's of the "green" stimulus. I looked a a lease from Solar City and the costs did not justify the savings. I am unwilling to pay Solar City to feel good about solar (and carbon). Two years ago I did contract with Clean Currents to get my electricity supplied 100% by wind power. Price is reasonable and it is delivered by my utility. It however does not stay on when the grid is down (which is why I am a PV & Storage person). I believe the problem with the economics of the solar lease plan is that they base the lease payments on full list price plus interest, not current commodity prices. With purchasing your own system you can shop prices to get a system that fits your needs. If you are really shaded so much that MA will not give you the credit, then I bet you will not see the utility savings either and you will be left paying for it all - utility power AND the lease payments.

    I agree with Gary. If your goal is to reduce your CO2 footprint, there are other ways to achieve this (try Clean Currents). If your goal is self sufficiency, the lease program will never get you there.

    Mark
  4. sesmith

    sesmith Member

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2009
    Messages:
    227
    Loc:
    Central NY
    Gary covered it well already, but as he said there are so many ways to reduce your carbon footprint AND have a reasonable payback. His "half" program was my inspiration to look carefully at my electrical usage a year or so ago and cut it by 1/3. Didn't really look at the payback of that but it was probably less than a year. Air sealing and insulation projects have a quick payback. Window treatments, also a quick payback. We recently put a geothermal (gshp) heating system in...payback for us about 7 years. None of these things advertise "green" like having solar panels on your roof, but all are ways that lower your carbon footprint as well as paying for themselves in a relatively short period of time. A 255 year old house HAS to have some areas that can be improved insulation / sealing wise. And if your roof is old, money spent on a new roof (especially before you need it in a rain storm) will be money well spent.

    Your shading issues may kill your chances for decent pv output, but solar thermal projects, especially of the DIY variety, may still have a quick payback. Check out Gary's build it solar website for more info there.

    BTW, the trees you don't want to cut down, lower your carbon footprint too. And if you cut them down, burn them in your wood stove...that's carbon neutral.

    Scott
  5. Hunderliggur

    Hunderliggur Minister of Fire

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Lothian, MD
    However, when those trees fall over on your house they leave a huge carbon footprint! But they do make great solar batteries you can use in your wood stove or wood boiler ;-)
  6. sesmith

    sesmith Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Central NY
    But then the insurance co. buys your roof job :)

    FWIW, and maybe you've already done this, but an energy audit, complete w/ blower door testing can be a real eye opener, and help you prioritize any home efficiency improvements. (Possibly available free or at reduced cost in your state??)
  7. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2009
    Messages:
    219
    Loc:
    Northern Worcester County, MA
    Great suggestions!

    We did have the regional energy consortium come over to do major amounts of energy tests on our house. We ended up doing tons of insulating, including having cellulose insulation blown in through the exterior walls. That has made a night-and-day difference in the efficiency of our house. It holds heat considerably longer. EVERYONE who owns an older home should do this!

    So... haven't had much time early this week to do more solar research (I'm a working stiff), so I'll have more to post soon...
  8. jim_n_nh

    jim_n_nh New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2008
    Messages:
    19
    Loc:
    goffstown, nh
    I don't havew an old house, 11 years ago we built an earth bermed SIP home. Picture a ranch earthbermed on the North and west side. Upstairs 1744 sq ft with 15 foot ceilings, Downstairs 800 sq ft of inlaw all heated by one Wookstock fireview. Last year we put in a 1.2 KW PV array gridtied with battery backup along with a 80 Solar DHW.

    If you would like to view it I live in Goffstown NH just about 1 and 1/2 hours from where you live.

    Jim
  9. joecool85

    joecool85 Minister of Fire

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    Loc:
    Central Maine
    If you don't mind me asking, how expensive was it to do the cellulose insulation? I think our house would benefit from the same. There is some cellulose in our walls now, but it has settled considerably. Our house is circa 1920, so it's starting to get old.
  10. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2009
    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Northern Worcester County, MA
    I think you'd need a lot less work than ours needed. We had ZERO insulation. Can you access some of the bays from the attic? That would make it easier.

    We had the entire insulation "thing" done for less than $2,000. Plus, they let us break it down into installments, and it included a bunch of other insulation products, i.e., around doors, foundation holes, etc..

    Although it may seem like a lot to spend at one time, it was HUGELY worth it, in terms of how comfortable the house was.
  11. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
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    By the way... we cancelled the original agreement w. Solar City, to enable us to have some time to pursue purchasing our system outright.

    My next step is to find low-interest financing to fund the thing. Strangely, even though the state and feds have TONS of incentives, there's no place that I've yet seen that offers solar loans. Can't figure out why. There's state backed solar hot water loans, but not for PVs. Go figure.

    Anyone have ideas?
  12. sesmith

    sesmith Member

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    Loc:
    Central NY
    I just did a home refinance at 3.5% and no closing costs Didn't really want to as we were close to paying the thing off, but the rate was the same as we could do with the state subsidized loan program for our geo system, and there was less red tape to go this way.
  13. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

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    Loc:
    Northern Worcester County, MA
    Does this mean that you took a refinance that left you with some capital remaining for your geo system? We are in the final steps of refinancing, just to take advantage of the lower rate, but we didn't arrange for any cash back. That's what you're doing? We may not have anything for equity in the house now anyway, considering that our house has apparently taken about a $90,000 bath in the last 5 years.... zap... equity gone. The house is worth more than that on the open market, but the banks try to low ball you. Should have done another appraisal.

    What kind of geo system do you/will you have?
  14. sesmith

    sesmith Member

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    Loc:
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    Just did the refinance to pay for the geo and the little we still owed on the house. The system's a 3 ton climatemaster with a horizontal ground loop. It's been in a little over a month now.
  15. joecool85

    joecool85 Minister of Fire

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    Loc:
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    Wow, that's actually cheaper than I figured it would be. We might have to consider doing this...
  16. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

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    Loc:
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    Don't forget... this insulation work was done through our state utility's "energy conservation" coalition, which claims to offer these services at a reduced rate. It was private companies that actually did the work, but commissioned through an organization locally called, "Mass Save". They did a good job, and the house is much more efficient.

    Let me know if you find an organization in ME that does this kind of thing!


    BTW - How do you typically get cash back from a refinance? Do you just ask to refinance at a slightly higher price than the value of equity in your house?
  17. sesmith

    sesmith Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Central NY
    "BTW - How do you typically get cash back from a refinance? Do you just ask to refinance at a slightly higher price than the value of equity in your house? "


    No. I'm sure the banks will not let you finance more that the house is worth, probably only a certain percentage of the value at that. It's not a good idea to be that close anyhow...remember the housing bust (that we're still in the middle of)?

    In the case of my refinance that I mentioned above, our house was almost paid off at the time, so the refinance we did for the geo system is for way less than the value of the property.

    In your case, it may not make sense to get in more debt as I'm reading your replies. The solar lease deal may actually be your best choice, if you 1) really want pv panels, and 2) if having them will actually save you money in expenses after the monthly lease and power costs are paid for. You could use the extra to pay ahead on the mortgage or other debt. Just my 2 cents.
  18. SolarBrian

    SolarBrian Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Central MA
    Mr. Kelley, I highly recommend you contact a local solar company like New England Breeze and talk to them about your questions. They are extremely knowledgeable on all the tax credits, rebates, loans and incentives like SRECs. They can estimate with great detail your cost out of pocket and pay back time in years.
  19. Mr. Kelly

    Mr. Kelly Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Northern Worcester County, MA
    Hi all...

    Thanks for the input.

    I've been researching the financing options... still... I'm really surprised that local or federal governments don't provide low cost loans for folks interested in financing solar installs (or, maybe I just can't find them???). So, I'll have to go to a local bank to see what loans they have. Anyone have experience with this process? Can't imagine a bank is going to be a good option for the low cost part.

    I did contact New England Breeze to consult, but it was last weekend that I emailed them, and haven't yet heard back. Will call soon to double up.

    Another possibility is the refinancing angle. Our house was previously assessed at $340.00, as of 2005. When we filled out paperwork last month to do our refinance, the company doing the refi said they were assessing our house at $249,000, which to us seems absurd. The company said they'd do a re-assessment, with a $300.00 expense to us, if we believe that our house is worth more. It's really hard to determine whether our house actually IS worth more, at current market values. At our current assessment, we'd have zero equity, so it seems that our refinance couldn't be a source of our solar financing. Of course, we have no idea if a new assessment would yield a higher assessment. If so, we might have some equity. I believe we'd need about $260.00 before we ran into equity. Geeze. Any thoughts?
  20. SolarBrian

    SolarBrian Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Loc:
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    That's tough. 2005 was just after the bubble burst. Houses may have still been over-assessed and now banks and assessors are being ultra conservative. We had ours assessed for a refi a couple years ago and the assessor said 295K, but less than a month later our neighbor a few doors down with almost an identical house sold for 315K so they were wrong on the assessment. Try zillow.com to get some idea of what similar houses in your area are going for. Sounds like refi and rolling the solar into the loan may not be an option for you.

    From all you've said about lack of funds and shade on the house, I wouldn't get your heart set on solar PV. It may not make sense for you at this time. I'd still talk to New England Breeze though, they can give you a fair assessment of your situation.

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