Community Solar FAQ
What is Community Solar ?
Community Solar is a way of bringing the benefits of solar power to people who can’t put it on their own properties – homeowners with shaded or older roofs, condo dwellers, renters, businesses and institutions. It’s a cooperative arrangement that lets groups of people use electricity generated by a solar array built on a location that makes sense in their area. A portion of the electricity is attributed to each participant (“subscriber”) according to the terms of their particular contract. Just like rooftop solar for your home or business, community solar is provided by developers who are motivated to save you money.
How should I evaluate my options?
You should first look into the business background and track record of the project developer. Then, look at the ownership or subscription model for a given project – do participants actually own some of the panels and pay an up-front cost then save going forward, or do you pay just for the electricity that you use? If a project offers an option you like, then review the contract carefully – including options in case you move or have to cancel for any other reason.
What about those options for moving or cancellation?
Typically, when you move, you can keep your share of the community solar project as long as your new home is within the same service area. If you move outside of the service area, you will have to sell your share (if you own it), transfer a subscription to another account, or potentially pay an early cancellation fee. Cancellation terms vary by project and provider.
How will it appear on my electric bill?
If you own a share of or subscribe to a community solar project, you will receive virtual net metering credits on your electric bill from your utility. Each credit is equal to one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. For example: you use 1,000 kWh at your home in one month, and your community solar share produces 800 kWh. The 800 kWh in credits from your share are applied to your electric bill, and your utility bills you for the remaining 200 kWh. You pay your community solar provider directly for the cost of your share or subscription.
How close do I need to be to a host to subscribe?
Subscribers must be in the same utility service area as the solar array.
Who pays for the array to be built?
Solar developers spearhead the construction of these systems, pulling together the financing, insurances, technical expertise and other resources they need. They are repaid over time by the revenues flowing into the project from subscribers. Because the cost of solar power is falling sharply, customers and developers can both benefit financially.
What about warranty and insurance?
That is the developer’s responsibility. You subscribe to the service of the Community Shared Solar Program – electricity at an affordable price, from the sun.
What Community Solar options are being offered by RenewableNY?
Visit www.renewableny.org and its local partners Solarize Hudson Valley (www.solarize-hudsonvalley.org), Go Solar and Southern Tier Solar Works to request more information online or meet us at a workshop or festival. We are excited to be the first Solarize program in New York to roll out Community Solar with guidance and support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Roof top solar FAQ
OK, I’m considering solar. What are my basic options?
There are conventional flat panels, mounted on a suitably oriented roof – or on the ground or on a pole. Unobstructed flat or south-facing roofs are ideal, but systems can be designed to accommodate a wider range. Pole-mounted systems can be designed to track the sun, for much higher efficiency (and cost). There are also more exotic new technologies like vented panels that are more efficient but not yet widely marketed in the Northeast. And there are roof shingles, which are good for some kinds of new construction but still expensive.
How can I figure out if my home or business is a good fit for solar?
The ideal location has south-facing orientation and exposure to the sun for most of the day – no obstructing trees, tall buildings or other structures. You can confirm the orientation by checking Google Maps or Bing. If it isn’t ideal – but for example faces southeast and has good solar access – then discuss your specific situation with an experienced installation firm.
If the roof is more than a few years old, you want to have it looked at by a good roofer and discuss any repairs or upgrades. It is not hugely difficult to remove and re-install a solar array in the event that a roof does need repair later; but if you are replacing the roof at the same time you install your solar panels, you may be able to apply the Federal tax credit (see below) to the entire job. Some solar installers have roofers they work with and trust.
If your site is in a historic district, you will also want to consult with your local regulatory body such as a historic district commission, and with your neighbors. Often there are straightforward, reasonable guidelines that your system designer can easily meet.
Oh boy, so I can go off the grid and never get an electric bill?
You could, but not through Solarize. We are offering grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems that are designed to meet just about 100% of your home or business needs – more in the summer, less in the winter, so you can sell the excess into the grid and receive credits to offset your bill in the less solar-friendly months.
Unfortunately, with most grid-tied solar electric systems, when there is a power failure, your system will automatically shut down. This is for a very good reason – to be sure you don’t feed some electricity into the grid that could injure someone working to fix the lines. However, there are newer systems available with built-in energy storage so that you have a little access to electricity during a power failure. Ask your installer.
Last week I had never heard of an inverter. Tell me about inverters.
This device takes the Direct Current (DC) from the panel, and converts it to Alternating Current (AC) for home use. There are (1) single ones that manage the system as a whole, and (2) smaller, smarter “micro-inverters” that manage each panel individually tune for optimum efficiency. Do your homework on suppliers. You will need to replace your inverter before the panels. Plan for this.
What do I need to know about quality, reliability, warranties?
A typical PV panel system has a 20 year warranty, guaranteeing that what you are buying is going to deliver, and if not, it can be replaced. Look at the exceptions – the more obscure the exceptions seem, the more carefully you should be investigating. The warranty on your inverter should specify that the manufacturer will repair it if it malfunctions, or replace with equal or better quality. Homeowner’s insurance will typically cover damage to your system, such as storm impacts, but not wear and tear or manufacturer deficiencies. You need to research and compare carefully.
How do I find a reliable designer/ installer?
Through the Solarize group purchasing program, a set of pre-qualified installers work through each “hub” community to serve five counties of the Mid-Hudson Valley (Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam).
To get a sense of the industry by viewing a broader list of contractors approved by NYSERDA and subject to their quality assurance program, see: http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Contractors/Find-a-Contractor.aspx
Are there solar homeowners or groups I could talk with to learn their experiences?
Solarize Hudson Valley has a regular schedule of open houses so you can meet people who have already gone solar. The campaign installers can also provide you with references on systems they have put in using any particular technology you are interested in
How exactly does Solarize make all this easier?
Solarize simplifies your research with community educational events and high quality informational materials. It builds trust with carefully pre-selected installation firms that have passed our stringent, two-phase proposal process and dedicate staff to serving the community. All these supports are available for a fixed period, usually 4 – 5 months, allowing enough time to make a thoughtful decision but not time to procrastinate.
I hear that solar technology keeps improving. So should I go for it now or wait?
Now. Because you can save money now, and the improvements in solar we can expect any time soon are incremental, not dramatic breakthroughts. In addition, the federal and state incentives are on their way down. New York makes direct, up-front payments to solar installers for a portion of the system cost – currently about 1/3. This is the amount that the customer never has to come up with. And for anyone who pays federal taxes, there is a credit of 30% for residential and business solar systems. Financially, there will never be a better time to go solar.