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Solarize Acton

Solarize Acton was a joint project of the Town of Acton, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the Department of Energy Resources, and several Acton community partners to bring you high-quality, low-cost, solar energy installations.  Here is an archive of the contents of the web pages.

Thanks, Results, and What’s Next

Nov 7, 2012

Thanks to you, Acton will have 179,122 new watts of solar photovoltaic (PV) power and 175 square feet of new solar hot water panels, for a total equivalent to 188,232 Watts. This came from 34 PV and 3 hot water contracts with 35 households and one business. We reached Tier 4 pricing, bringing the basic price per watt down from $4.89 to $4.14. New England Clean Energy, the hardworking company chosen as Solarize Acton’s installer, has finished two of the installations already, and will be busy over the next 12 months finishing all the others.

Nearly 500 households asked for solar power assessments, and many more learned about solar power. By the time of our last tabling at Octoberfest, almost every Acton resident we asked had heard of Solarize Acton. Some households that couldn’t be served by New England Clean Energy because of the specific terms of the Solarize Acton contract went out and found other installers, and other households are in ongoing conversations with New England Clean Energy about installations to be done later, when trees get cut down, or when financial circumstances change. The impact of the momentum we created together will continue for years in to the future.

Well done!

What else can you do right now?

1. Acton Community Solar Garden
Some of you couldn’t get a solar power installation because of site issues such as roof angles or shade. Two people on the Solarize Acton community team, Debby Andell and Greg Voss, are researching the possibility of a community solar garden for Acton, where a large solar power installation could be set up that brings credits to the electric bills of the households that choose to participate. If you would like to be kept up to date on what is happening with this effort, or if you are able and willing to help with the research and launch of this project, please let Debby and Greg know, by filling out this form:http://tinyurl.com/ActonCommunitySolar

2. Free Energy Audit, via Sagewell, Inc.
If you are getting a solar PV system, you have to have a recent free energy audit, via the MassSave program, before you can get the state rebates. If you are not getting a solar system, a free energy audit is still a great idea: you find out about how to save money by using less energy, and the program provides rebates, free materials, and access to many other programs that can help reduce your electric bill. One easy way to request your free energy audit is via Sagewell, Inc at http://sagewell.com. Sagewell thermal imaging trucks went through many streets in Acton earlier this year, so you can also find out if they have a free thermal image waiting for you to look at. Whether they do or not, there’s a simple checkbox after you enter your address to request a free energy audit.

3. Introduce yourself to our sponsors.
Many organizations provided support for getting the word out about Solarize Acton. They are all fine folks that you might want to get to know better. Brief descriptions and links to learn more are on the sponsor page.

New Power Purchase Agreement Option — Solar Electricity for No Money Down!

Sep 21, 2012

New England Clean Energy, the installer for Solarize Acton, has arranged for customers to have the option of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). In a PPA, you pay no money to get a solar power system on your property. The system is owned and maintained by a PPA company, and you pay only for the electricity you use, at rates less than you pay now. For more details, see the Power Purchase Agreement page.

If you have hesitated about getting started with Solarize Acton because you thought a large investment would be needed up front, there’s an alternative for you now. Sign up for a free site assessment and specify in the signup form that you are interested in a PPA, or, if you have already started with Solarize Acton, ask your New England Clean Energy representative about this way to get started with Solar electricity for little or no money.

Contract Signing Deadline Extended to October 31

Sep 21, 2012

The Solarize Acton community team is happy to announce that the final date for signing Solarize Acton contracts has been extended from September 30 to October 31. New England Clean Energy and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center have accepted our request for a new deadline, based on the recent availability of the no-money-down Solarize Acton Power Purchase Agreement option, and a flurry of new interest in Solarize Acton in September.

Tier Three Pricing Achieved!

Sep 2, 2012

The first nine Solarize Acton solar power contracts have been signed, bringing the starting price down for an average system by $2,400 since the program began. Solarize Acton has five pricing tiers. At each tier, the installed price of a system goes down another 25 cents / watt. The tiers are reached when the total wattage of all contracts signed exceeds 25, 50, 150, and 250 kilowatts. As of Sep 2, the signed contracts total more than 60 kilowatts.

Contracts must be signed by October 31 to be eligible for this tiered pricing.

Tier Two Pricing

Aug 15, 2012

The first four Solarize Acton solar power contracts have been signed, bringing the pricing down for an average system by $1,200 (25 cents per watt).

First Solarize Acton Contract Signed

July 26, 2012

The first Solarize Acton contract was signed for a 7500 Watt system near Powder Mill Road in the South of Acton.

Solar 201: Plans and Prices

July 10, 2012

Sixty interested households gathered at Acton Town Hall with staff from New England Clean Energy to learn about the programs and prices offered as part of Solarize Acton.

Here are the slides from New England Clean Energy and, thanks to Acton TV, a video of the entire presentation, including the entire Q+A. The plans include a purchase option, and a leasing option. Other options include a choice of solar panel types, roof mounting or ground mounting, monitoring equipment and more. Households can also choose to install solar hot water systems instead of, or in addition to, solar PV systems.

New England Clean Energy chosen as Solarize Acton installer

June 22, 2012

New England Clean Energy, formerly known as New England Breeze, was chosen by the town of Acton to be the Solarize Acton installer. Nine bids were received. New England Clean Energy was the successful installer for Solarize Harvard as part of last year’s Solarize pilot program – over 70 installations are in process in Harvard.

Solar 101: The Basics

May 24, 2012

Room 204 in Town Hall was filled with Actonians who wanted to learn about solar energy in general, and the Solarize Acton program in particular. The presentation explained solar-generated electricity (Photovoltaics, or PV), why they are such a great bargain now, and how the Solarize Acton program will make them an even better deal.

Acton selected to be part of 2012 Solarize Massachusetts program

April 13, 2012

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center announced today that Acton was chosen as one of 17 towns and cities to participate in the second year of Solarize Mass. This will give Acton technical support and a small marketing budget to bring solar power installations to as many Acton residents and businesses as possible over the next few months. The first step will be soliciting bids and picking an installer. The next step will be encouraging Actonians to sign up for free site assessments and, if their sites are appropriate, signing contracts for installations. The special Solarize Acton pricing will be available until October 31, 2012, and installations will be complete within 1 year of signing contracts.

Community Sponsors Helping with Publicity and Education:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Solarize Acton Succeed!

This is a message from the community volunteers who are working on Solarize Acton.

We are very excited about this program. We see how Acton and its residents and business owners will benefit from inexpensive high quality renewable energy. We’ve learned how pleased people are with the work of New England Clean Energy, our installer, and how successful they were in Harvard MA during last year’s Solarize Mass pilot. But we also understand that Solarize Acton depends upon community volunteers for its success.

First, the program pricing assumes that much of the work of education and outreach is done by volunteers. In other words, it is up to us to find the households that might benefit from solar power, and get them the information they need to decide whether to sign up for a free site assessment, and, after that, a contract.

Second, the program is structured so that the more households sign up, the better the pricing will be for everyone: Pricing improves at each ‘tier’ of total contracted kiloWatts (kW). Price breaks happen at 25, 50, 150, and 250 kW. Since an average installation is about 5 kW, that means we need about 50 installations to get the best pricing. So, if you have signed a contract, come help us sign other people up to guarantee the best pricing.

What are volunteers doing? You could help out in a wide variety of ways, including:

  • Drafting brochures, websites, Facebook postings, emails, etc., that will help educate and persuade.
  • Handing out written material in places such as the transfer station, the Farmer’s Market, the Commuter Rail, or other plaes where Actonians congregate
  • Forwarding emails to neighborhood and organizational networks to reach more Acton residents.
  • Speaking to small or large groups, clubs, and gatherings about Solarize Acton
  • Responding to questions that come in from residents by email, phone, or Facebook.
  • Helping to staff larger educational events, by helping with set=up or takedown, providing refreshments, assisting people with signing in, etc.
  • Identifying other ways to reach more people

Volunteers right now are Bruce Friedman, Carole Marcacci, Chris Schaffner, Darren Jones, Debby Andell, Debra Simes, Greg Voss, Heather Haines, Sasha Berkovich, Jim Snyder-Grant, and contact people at each of the project’s organizational sponsors.

Come Join Us!

More about Solarize Acton

If you have questions that are not answered below, here are some ways to help you learn more:

Is this “Solarize Acton” a for-profit enterprise, or is this something the Town is doing, or the State, or what?
Some of each. Solarize Acton is part of Solarize Mass, which is a program of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), which is a quasi-public agency created by the legislature but funded by the charge paid by ratepayers of utilities in Massachusetts. MassCEC is providing some funding and technical support. TheTown of Acton applied to be a part of this program for 2012 and was accepted in May. The Town provides administrative support and uses some of their equipment and staff to help get the word out. The Town worked with MassCEC to put up a request for proposals for installers, and among the nine bids, the town chose New England Clean Energy as the sole installer for Solarize Acton, based on their excellent prices, the high quality equipment in their proposal, and their great track record. The proposal by the Town also included a list of community sponsors, and from among those sponsors, a group of initial planning volunteerswas formed, to work through the details of how and when education and publicity would be done for the program.
Will I be purchasing a system and getting free electricity from it, or not buying a system and just paying for the electricity?
With Solarize Acton, you can do either. Purchasing a system is the best deal over the life of the system: you get your initial money back in savings and credits in 4-7 years depending on your site, and then continue to get free electricity after that for the life of the system, which will be at least 25 years (the warranty period for the panels). Sometimes, a purchase is not practical because of the money down required. In that case, Solarize Acton has a no-money-down Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) option, where you simply pay for the solar electricity delivered to your house from a system on your roof that is owned by a third party (Clean Power Finance). The electric rates you pay will be better then the NStar rates, and you do not pay for the system or any maintenance costs. There is more detail on this PPA option on the Power Purchase page.
What’s all this about Watts and kWh and all these ways of measuring electricty?
There are some good articles on this, but here are the basics. A Watt is a measure of electrical power. You could think of it as a measure of how fast the electricty is flowing in a given moment. A thousand Watts is a KiloWatt (kW), a million Watts is a megaWatt (MW). A Watt-Hour is a measure of how much electricty has flowed. 1 Watt Hour is the amount of electricty that flows when one Watt flows for one hour. A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is 1,000 times as much: for example, 1,000 Watts for 1 hour, or 1 Watt for a 1,000 hours. A megawatt-hour (MWh) is a 1000 times a kilowatt-hour.
You get charged for electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh). The size of solar PV systems is measured in kilowatts (kW). A typically-sized residential solar system at 5kW might generate about 6,000 kWh per year, or 6 MWh.
How does the metering and billing work if I purchase solar electric panels?
You will get two meters in a solar PV installation: a production meter to measure all the power your panels produce, and a ‘net’ meter, which runs forwards or backwards, depending on whether you are generating or using more power in any moment. At the end of each billing month, if your net meter has run backwards for the period, you get some credit per kWh. If it has run forwards, you pay your normal per-kWh bill, but with many fewer kWh than you would have without the solar PV. In either case you pay the standard minimum interconnect fee. These credits never expire, nor do they turn in to cash for the homeowner: they usually get used up in other months where your meter runs forward.
Why are the prices so good?
  1. Having a single installer for all the contracts allows for bulk purchasing of panels.
  2. The competive bidding process drives the prices down.
  3. Having the town and community groups involved allows the installer to reduce their normal marketing costs.
  4. Massachusetts incentives are some of the best in the nation.
What do you mean “Massachusetts incentives are some of the best in the nation.”?
Massachusetts provides instant rebates for certain solar installations, sweetened some by using Massachusetts components, and by having a moderate family income or a moderate house value. Massachusetts also has a state tax credit of $1,000 for certain renewable energy projects. The standard Solarize Action offerings are eligible for both the rebates and the credits. New England Clean Energy has a decent 2-page summary of incentives for Massachusetts residents, and here are links to complete information on Massachusetts renewable energy incentives. Plus there are SRECs.
What’s an SREC, and how do they make me money?
SRECs, or Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, represent 1 MWh of generated solar electricity. Utilities in Massachusetts are required by law to generate an increasing amount of their power from renewable energy. They meet some of that requirement by paying for the right to own your SRECs as their own. Organizations called ‘aggregators’ will pay you each quarter for the right to bundle up SRECs and sell them to utilities. The cost of an SREC is settled in a quarterly auction. These payments vary as the auctions change, but will generally be more per kWh than you pay for electricity, so they are a significant source of future income. There’s a helpful writeup on SRECs from New England Clean Energy.
What if I like the idea of solar PV, and I have a good roof, but I don’t have the money now?
Depending on the interest rate and the efficiency of your site, if you borrow money to pay for a Solarize Acton PV installation, you will be able to pay the loan back over 5-10 years from your reductions in energy costs and your SREC payments. If borrowing money is not a good option for you, then a 20-year lease arrangement through Solarize Acton may be just right. You can choose your down payment, and then you will pay a monthly rate based on how many watts your system is. You can also choose to pay less now and more later, if you think the cost of electricty will rise, and you want to match your payments more closely to your savings in energy costs. The net metering will reduce your energy bill by more than the lease payments. In a lease, tax credits go to the leasing agency. The leasing company will make sure the system works for 20 years, including replacing the inverters if they go bad.
What’s the “tiered pricing” arrangement?

To reflect the money that can be saved by the installer for larger bulk purchases, and to give everyone involved an incentive to get more solar PV installed, Solarize Acton pricing gets better the more contracts are signed before Sep 30. Everyone who signs a contract gets to have the tiered pricing achieved by adding up all the contracts signed by October 31. The price per Watt for a purchased system, and the price per kWh for a leased system falls like this:

Tier 1 2 3 4 5
Total Contracted PV <25kW 25–50kW 50–150kW 150–250kW >250kW
Base Pricing:
  Purchase $4.89/Watt $4.64/Watt $4.39/Watt $4.14/Watt $3.89/Watt
  Lease $0.099/kWh $0.092/kWh $0.084/kWh $0.078/kWh $0.076/kWh
What are the prices for everything, exactly?
There’s a lot of details, but they are all spelled out in the proposal from New England Clean Energy that was accepted by the Town. Here’s a PDF from the contract proposal of the complete pricing schedule. If you get a contract from New England Clean Energy, every part of the price will be spelled out in detail, including a note specifying that prices will go down if a higher Tier total is achieved before Sep 30.
What happens if I sign up for a free site assessment?

New England Clean Energy will look at your house site using aeriel imagery, and then call your or email you with one of three possibilities:

  1. Your house site will definitely not work for Solar PV — the roof lines are wrong, there’s no room for a ground-mounted system, or there is way too much shade.
  2. Your house site might work for Solar PV — we’d like to come by some time, and walk on to your property to measure the solar potential and to better understand your roof lines
  3. Your house site will definitely work for Solar PV — we’d like to come by to take some more detailed measurements on your roof, talk to you about options, and get you a proposal.

If you get a proposal, you have until Sep 30 to sign it. Signing earlier will get your installation done sooner, and will help us know what tier of pricing we have reached. If you don’t sign your contract after awhile, we may be contacting you to to find out if you have any questions or concerns that we can help answer to help you decide whether or not to sign. For all installations other than the no-money-down lease, there is a $1,000 down payment due with the contract signing.

What happens after the contract is signed?
New England Clean Energy will take you through the rest of the process. They will take care of preparing any paperwork, including building permits, state rebates, SRECs, the utility interconnection agreement and more. They have a year from the contract signing to complete the work, but they would like to be done earlier than that. The actual construction work consists of a day or two of wiring work, typically in your basement, and then less then a week to put the panels up.
Anything I can do now to make the installation go more smoothly?
If you have not had a utulity-sponsored (“Mass SAVE”) free energy audit in the last year, you can get started on that now if you like, to avoid any later delays.
My roof is getting a bit old — what should I do?
The New England Clean Energy team will help assess your roof’s remaining lifetime. A good rule of thumb is that if your roof has less than 10 years of life in it, it’s a good idea to replace the roof (either the entire roof or the part where the panels will go) before installing the panels. The panels themselves will help extend the life of the roof by covering it from sun and weather. It costs about $1,000 – $2,000 in labor to remove and then reinstall the panels and racking if needed to replace a roof.
I’ve got a lot of trees around my house — what should I do?
There is no simple answer here. Sometimes, it makes great economic and environmental sense to remove or trim trees in order to make a solar PV installation doable. In other cases, either because of the beauty or functionality of the trees (shade helps reduce air-conditioning bills), or because of the high cost or other difficulty of removing the trees, it’s better not to proceed. The site assessment team will help you think about this.
My roof isn’t good for Solar PV — what can I do?
  • Some sites have land that would be good for a pole-mounted system, and this is an option offered by New England Clean Energy.
  • New England Clean Energy will also assess your house for the feasibility of a solar hot water installation, which can work on many roofs where solar PV will not. There is special Solarize pricing for solar hot water systems, and installing these will count towards our Tier totals.
  • There are other services and installation offered by New England Clean Energy that you may be interested in, such as an extended energy audit, energy monitoring equipment, solar attic fans, or more.
  • There may be an option for you to participate in a solar community garden after Solarize Acton is done.
What’s a Solar Community Garden?
Massachusetts laws and utility regulations allow for the sharing of the benefis of net metering from a single installation. This is called ‘community net metering.’ For example, if some homeowners went in together to pay for installing a large PV system on a piece of land, they can direct the utiity to assign a portion of each monthly production to each of their households, resulting in each of the household’s electric bills enjoying some of that credit without having to install an actual net meter at each household. This can be as simple as two neighbors sharing a single system, or multiple residents across a town creating a large scale PV array at some land they buy or rent for that purpose. These larger installations are sometimes known as “Community Solar Gardens”. You can read about a completed project in Brewster, MA and an in-process project in Harvard, MA. If you would be interested in participating in a Community Solar Garden in Acton, you can fill out this form.
If a Community Solar Garden project starts up in Acton, it will be after the Solarize Acton project is done, and it will rely on the energy of those who sign up to participate.

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) information

What’s a PPA?
If you sign a Power Purchase Agreement (a “PPA”), you pay only for the electricity that the solar power system delivers to your house. You don’t pay for the system itself, you don’t pay for any maintenance, and you don’t have to put any money down. If the money required to purchase a system is a barrier to your participation in Solarize Acton, then a PPA is a great alternative.
With a Solarize Acton PPA, who installs the system and who owns the system?
New England Clean Energy, the official Solarize Acton installer, will design and install the system on your property. Clean Power Finance, a national PPA company, will own the system.
How do I find out exactly what I would pay for the solar electricity with a Solarize Acton PPA?
Every roof and every installation is different, so New England Clean Energy will give you a PPA quote tailored for your situation. If you are new to Solarize Acton, click on the Free Solar Power Assessment button on the left, and indicate that you are looking for PPA pricing on the signup form. If you are already in contact with New England Clean Energy, ask your contact about PPA pricing.
How much will I pay for the electricity with a Solarize Acton PPA?

This depends on these factors:

  • The pricing tier reached by the Solarize Acton program
  • The efficiency of your system
  • Extra labor or materials needed to make your system work
  • How much money, if any, you choose to pay ahead of time to reduce the future cost of your electricity
  • Whether you choose to pay less for your electricity now and more later, or pay the same amount for the whole contract period.
I don’t want all the details, I just want a sense of how much I will pay for the solar electricity.

You would pay only 13 cents/kWh (kilowatt hour) once the system is turned on, with these assumptions:

  • Tier 3 pricing
  • A roof pointed directly south with little or no shade
  • A standard roof mounted installation
  • You choose to pay no money down
  • You choose to have your electricity costs rise at a standard 2.9% / year

NSTAR prices vary, but 18 cents/kWh is a typical amount, significantly more than the PPA cost under almost all assumptions.

How do the pricing tiers change the PPA electricity price?
The more Solarize Acton contracts are signed, the less expensive the bulk purchase of solar panels will be for New England Clean Energy. These savings are increased as we reach certain “tiers” of total system capacity for all contracts. We are currently at Tier 3. Prices will fall by about 10% when we reach Tier 4, and again when we reach Tier 5. More about the Tiers is on the details page.
How will the efficiency of my system change the PPA electricity price?
It will cost Clean Power Finance less money to generate electricity the closer your system is to ideal efficiency, and they will pass those savings on to you. Efficiency depends primarily on the orientation of your roof (south is the best), and how much shade is on your panels in Fall and Spring.
What else about my installation might change the PPA electricity price?
Some installations are more expensive to install because of site conditions: for example, if you have a weak roof where extra rafter supports are needed, or if the system is ground mounted instead of on a roof. These costs would get passed on to you in the form of higher electricity prices.
Can I pay money now to reduce my electricity prices later?
Yes. The basic Solarize Acton PPA is a no-money-down contract, but you can pay $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000 now to lock in lower prices later. These are not “down payments”, since you do not need to own the system: they are simply a way of guaranteeing an even lower rate in to the future.
What if I think electricity prices are going up in the future? Can I adjust my PPA rates to match my guess?
Yes! Most people do expect retail rates to rise over time, and the standard Solarize Acton PPA contract includes a 2.9% annual “escalator” in the rates. That allows the rate you pay for your Solar electricity to be lower at the start of the contract and rise in a predictable way for the life of the contract. This is intended to make it likely that your electricity payments to Clean Energy Finance will stay roughly the same percentage below retail rates over time. You can also choose to have no “escalator”, and pay the same rate for the entire contract, paying more now and less later than in the standard contract.
Who pays for maintenance?
All maintenance is the responsibility of Clean Power Finance, the owner. They will arrange for New England Clean Energy to come out if needed to diagnose or repair any problems with the system, at no cost to you. In any case, there is very little maintenance needed for solar panels: there are no moving parts, snow melts and falls off on its own, and rain keeps the panels clean. After 10-15 years there may be a need to replace an inverter.
How long does the Power Purchase Agreement last?
The Power Purchase Agreement is for 20 years. At the end of the agreement, you will have the option to buy the solar panels on your roof.
What happens if I sell my house?
As is true for your other utilities, you transfer the Power Purchase Agreement to the buyer of your home.
What’s more financially advantageous, a PPA or a direct purchase?
A Solarize Acton PPA will provide better prices than your retail electricity provider. A direct purchase of a solar system through Solarize Acton will provide even better prices over the life of the system, with a total payback of your initial costs in around 5-6 years, and free solar electricity after that. Your choice of program depends on how you view the initial investment: if that’s a steep hurdle, then a PPA will provide the next best option. New England Clean Energy can prepare quotes and spreadsheets to let you compare your choices so that you can make a fully informed decision.

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