Solar installer selected for second buying group in Northwest Philadelphia, Installations to start in September

Press Release: Solar installer selected for second buying group in Northwest Philadelphia, Installations to start in September

Philadelphia, August 10, 2017 — Buoyed by the success of their first buying group, the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op is poised to double their membership with their 2nd buying group. After reviewing competitive bids from other local solar installers, they have decided to work with Solar States for their bulk buying group. Joining a buying group results in about 10% lower price for the turnkey systems for area homeowners.

“We received three excellent responses to our request for proposals,” NPSC Board Member Marion Biddle said. “All were local installers with excellent customer reviews. The decision to go with Solar States was based on competitive pricing, a strong local job development program, company size, as well as support for unsecured loans to help people invest in solar.”

Formed last September by three local organizations — The Shalom Center, the Philadelphia Chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, and Weavers Way Food Co-op — the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Cooperative is building on the community’s interest in clean energy. Their first buying group was organized in February with a dozen households. The newly installed rooftop systems are being monitored on smart phones, and members are seeing super low electric bills during this record-breaking hot summer.

“This is a great opportunity to grow our community,” Northwest Philadelphia resident and solar panel owner Peter Winslow said. “If you had the opportunity to decrease pollution and bring good-paying jobs to your neighbors, you’d take it.”

The solar energy industry is expected to add jobs at a faster pace than any other energy sector. Currently, the solar industry employs 100 people in the Philadelphia region and produces only 1% of the region’s electricity needs. However, solar has the potential to employ 4,000 workers and supply more than 20% of the area’s power.

Consumers benefit from going solar. Solar panels increase property values, resulting in overall savings within seven to ten years of their installation, while the house becomes part of the clean energy revolution. There is still a 30% federal tax credit to take advantage of and lower the installation cost.

One of the main reasons scientists and environmentalists like renewable energy sources like solar is that they greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions–substantially slowing climate change–as well as improve air quality and public health outcomes.

“Renewable energy is the future,” NPSC treasurer Meenal Raval said. “And we’re doing what we can to make it a bright one.”

So far there are over 30 households considering having solar panels installed through the Co-op. Area homeowners interested in adding solar panels to their home should contact Meenal Raval or Marion Biddle at nwphlsolar@gmail.com, or come to an informational meeting on Monday August 14th at 7pm at 555 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia with a recent PECO bill in hand! More at nwphillysolarcoop.com.

 

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Declare Independence from the Fossil Fuel industry: Electrify Everything & Power it All with Rooftop Solar

image credit: NW Philly Solar Co-op

It’s time we declared independence from the Fossil Fuel industry. They’re killing the planet while raking in mega profits. How to walk away from them? Many of us are discovering that we can generate our own electricity from rooftop solar, and meet all of our energy needs by that same clean electricity. To heat & cool our homes, to cook with, for our appliances, and for getting around.

Think you can’t install solar because you have a flat roof? They’re actually great for solar, as are roofs that face somewhat south.

Wondered about the tax incentives out there to motivate your decision? There is still a 30% tax credit that homeowners can claim for solar projects.

We’re neighbors, and waiting to wean you off dirty energy!

You’re invited to one of our upcoming member meetings.

When? 7pm on Monday July 10th & Monday July 17th
Where? 518 Carpenter Lane, down the street from Weavers Way Food Co-op

It’s ideal if you come with a recent PECO bill in hand or on your phone. You’ll learn how we use this to size your system.

Can’t make the meeting? Write us at nwphlsolar@gmail.com. We can offer you a back-of-envelope cost estimate.

About us – We’re the NW Philly Solar Co-op, educating and encouraging people to install solar on their rooftops. We organize people into buying groups. And we even make it easy for folks to advocate for clean energy policies. To date, we’ve formed one buying group, and most of the households already have the systems installed. We’re currently organizing our second buying group.

We offer an initial roof assessment & a back-of-the-envelope estimate for a rooftop solar installation that could generate most of your electricity needs. You save money in the long run, and reduce your carbon footprint right away.

Our timeline – On June 30th, we invited 5 area installers to bid for our next buying group. By July 31st, we expect to have decided on an installer. We will work with this installer to get a better roof assessment, cost estimate, and to streamline the installation process should you wish to proceed. Expect to get proposals in August and installation in September.

One of the most common questions asked us is… Is my neighborhood considered part of the Northwest? Yes! For our second group, we have interested households from Mt Airy, Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Roxborough & West Oak Lane, and also from the bordering suburbs of Ambler & Wyndmoor.

Have too much shade? Or don’t own your roof? Then you could be a great solar advocate.

Want to support our effort? Become a member of the Northwest Philly Solar Co-op. It’s only $25. More here.

 

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Be a great Solar Advocate

Have too much shade? Or don’t own your roof? Then you could be a great solar advocate.

image: Clean Energy Revolution Art Group

We need you to ask your state senator to support Senator Mario Scavello’s Senate Bill 404.

This bill would “close the borders” on PA’s solar renewable energy credit purchases; i.e. our utilities would need to purchase required solar-generated electricity from in-state projects, instead of the current procurement from Virginia & North Carolina.

Several of our area Senators (Art Haywood, Stewart Greenleaf, Vincent Hughes and Sharif Street) are co-sponsors. Please thank them, and ask them to push on this bill.

We’ve heard from the industry that this will be a game-changer for solar in our region.

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Equipment loans for residential solar

Have a sunny roof but don’t have the upfront cash to get rooftop solar? You’re not the only one.  In February, we wrote about whether you should buy or lease a system.

And recently came across this list of banks & lenders who offer unsecured (not home equity) loans for equipment.

Of note are these: Admirals Bank ~ EnerBank USA ~ Green Sky Credit ~ Home Loan Investment Bank ~ Lightstream ~ Provident Credit Union ~ SunPower Corporation ~ Sunnova Energy Corporation

If you’ve used any of these lenders to fund a solar installation, please write us and share your experience for others in Greater Philadelphia!

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Chestnut Hill United Church invites the public to learn about installing solar power

The Environmental Justice Center at Chestnut Hill United Church has been working for years to slow climate change.  Although climate disruption will hurt almost all sectors of the natural and human worlds, the Center recognizes that those at the margins of society – the elderly, the very young, the medically fragile, the poor – will be disproportionately and unjustly harmed.  Thus, addressing climate change is a moral imperative for the Center and its host organization, Chestnut Hill United Church.

Recognizing that current political leadership in Washington is not likely to take any meaningful actions soon to promote clean energy, which avoids the pollution of fossil fuel energy and slows climate disruption, the Environmental Justice Center is encouraging individuals to do more to lower their carbon footprints. “We are distraught that President Trump has chosen to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord,” said Joy Bergey, the Center’s director. “While we will keep the pressure on our elected leaders to move us towards a clean energy economy – the only ethical choice, we also want to help community take their energy future into their own hands, as it were.”

To that end, the Center is partnering with Northwest Philly Solar Co-op to help residents learn what’s involved in putting solar panels on the roof. The Solar Co-op is working with solar installers to arrange neighborhood-by-neighborhood buying groups. This will result in lower prices and a more streamlined process for everyone involved.

According to Meenal Raval, the co-op’s coordinator, a group of twelve Mt. Airy households has formed the first neighborhood buying group, with solar panels being installed on all these properties, with a cumulative carbon reduction of 55.8 metric tons. Raval says, “We’re actively forming more groups in Northwest Philly neighborhoods, and we’re eager to create groups in the nearby suburbs like Cheltenham, Erdenheim, Ambler, and Lafayette Hill.”

“Come learn about what’s involved in getting rooftop solar on your home. We’ll discuss what makes a good site for solar panels, as well as issues like pay-back periods and available tax breaks.”

The group will meet on Sunday, June 25 2017 at 11:30 at Chestnut Hill United Church, 8812 Germantown Avenue (directly across from the Women’s Center.) There’s no cost to attend, and all are invited.

Contact joybergey@gmail.com or 215-313-1311 for more information.

 

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How much electricity do I use each year?

Ever wondered how much electricity you use in a year?  For those of you who get a paper bill from PECO each month, turn to page 2.

At the bottom right, you’ll see Total Annual kWh Usage; 4,896 in the example above.

This accounts for the seasonal swings in each month’s usage. This is also the number I monitor after replacing any electrical appliance with a newer, more efficient one. Within a month or two, I usually see this number go down!

When planning to install rooftop solar, we again refer to the annual usage, building a system that generates close to your current usage.

Curious about lowering your annual usage?

Curious about rooftop solar? Write us at nwphlsolar@gmail.com.

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Springtime & power tools

It’s springtime. Time to start thinking about lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed whackers, hedge trimmers, and…

Earth Day.

Many of us sense that the path to a livable planet, to bringing the climate back into balance, hinges on the mantra: Electrify Everything and Upgrade the Electricity Grid.

So, if you’re in the market for any new power tools, we recommend you consider the battery-powered ones. Sure, we’re all used to the cordless drill.

Last spring, we bought a Kobalt brand lawnmower from Lowes, and more recently a chain saw that uses the same type of battery. Home Depot has a variety of models, also.

Our lawnmower has been great.  It has a battery that lasts for about an hour and only takes 30 minutes to recharge.  We got two batteries, which means, in theory, I could mow forever!  I tend to let the grass get way too long, but the lawnmower has had no problem cutting right through. Don’t believe anyone that says battery powered lawnmowers are not up to the task.

I cannot comment yet on the chain saw, as we haven’t managed to get outside to use it, yet, but I’ll let you all know as soon as we do. Bottom line is – no more gas can in the garage or on the side of the house.

We currently buy our electricity from The Energy Coop, so we know it’s all from the wind and sun. Once we get our solar panels this summer, our lawn mower will be powered by our very own house.

Our Friends at Germantown Meeting manage a local

photo credit: gfsnet.org

community garden, the Old Tennis Court Farm. At this garden, you’ll find panels on their shed roof, providing  electricity for a well pump that fills up water barrels for use by gardeners.  Over time, they’ve added an inverter and invested in an electric lawnmower and weed whacker for use by all gardeners.

We’d love to hear your stories about Electrifying Everything; write us at nwphlsolar@gmail.com.
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Roofs and Rooftop Solar and the Federal Tax Credit

One issue with installing rooftop solar is the pre-existing condition of the roof.

Even though rooftop panels extend the life of a roof, it’s better to begin with a roof that’s newish, or in good condition. So, in the past few months, several people ended up calling in a roofer while we were together analyzing their solar proposals.

Some of these people have decided to tackle the roof first, and the solar

Image credit: nhenergychoices.com

panels… maybe the following year. Some other people asked us… since there’s a 30% federal tax credit for rooftop solar, could this also apply to the roofing job?  The answer is “maybe.”

The page explaining the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit does not specifically mention roofs. It states that “expenditures include labor costs for on-site preparation, assembly or original system installation, and for piping or wiring to interconnect a system to the home.” Some people consider the new roof, or some part of it, to be on-site preparation.

To obtain this credit you need to fill out IRS Form 5695. Instructions for Form 5695 Residential Energy Credits states that:

Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States. No costs relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) will fail to qualify solely because the property constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed. The home doesn’t have to be your main home.”

Not very clear, we agree. One of our co-op members called up his accountant who interpreted the above as…If there’s a structural concern with installing panels on a roof; or there’s a prerequisite repair before the panels can go up; and both jobs are within a reasonable time frame, which we interpret to be within a month or so of each other; then the cost of the roof repair could also, in effect, be reduced by 30% from the tax savings.

As to whether the whole roofing job, or just the area beneath the panels is eligible, we suggest using your own judgement when filing. Be reasonable.

Image credit: maximumwindowprotection.com

If in doubt, please check with your tax advisor. And know that we are not tax advisors, and therefore not liable for this advice.

In this member’s case, the roof didn’t need to be replaced. And he will happily get to include the repairs along with the solar job when he files his 2017 returns.

Currently, we get to reduce our taxes by 30% of the cost of a solar installation. Know that the longer you wait, the more likely that this encouragement will disappear. Here you can see a timeline for the tax credit for homes with solar electric installations, also known as photo-voltaic systems.

  • 30% for systems placed in service by 12/31/2019
  • 26% for systems placed in service during 2020
  • 22% for systems placed in service during 2021
  • No plans yet for systems placed in service after 2021

Get ’em while the tax credit lasts…

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Sun Blessing

Image: wikimedia.org

That what it reveals
we will have no cause
to fear.

That what it illumines
we will greet
with joy.

That each place
where it rises
will be at peace,
and every place
where it sets
will be at rest.

That we will bless
what lives in its path.

That we will blaze
with its gracious light.

From PaintedPrayerBook &JanRichardsonImages, via Viv Hawkins

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Financing residential solar

When deciding on residential solar installations, people often ask whether it’s better to own or lease the project.

We’ve found it best to own the project outright, paid from personal savings. A home equity loan is next best, and for those who may not have equity in their home: an unsecured loan.

To get rooftop solar with no money down, there is an option to lease which used to be the best option when solar projects were more expensive. Though this could still work for some people, we are not keen on it because a large portion of the savings goes to the solar installer / financier rather than the homeowner.

 

Personal savings

Paying for solar installations from personal savings is typically the best option, since savings account rates are typically well below 1%, while the return on investment for residential rooftop solar in Pennsylvania is about 11%, with a payback period of about 10 years.

Home Equity Loans

In the Philadelphia area, Washington Savings Bank and Ambler Savings Bank had the best home equity loan rates (about 3.5%) when one of our members checked a few weeks ago for 10 year home equity loan rates. Dollar bank, based out of Pittsburgh, offered home equity loans at 3.54%.

Unsecured Loans, not tied to Home Equity

Looking at bankrate.com’s page on Home Improvement Loans,  we learned that “Using personal loans for home repairs can be done without depleting your home equity.” Sample projects have solar installations alongside kitchen remodel, deck & fence projects.

We also learned about the PowerSaver Program, a Federal government supported program that will guarantee loans up to $25,000 from a list of 18 banks and/or credit unions. Currently, the lenders participating in this program include:

Admirals Bank – AFC First Financial Corporation – Bank of Colorado – City of Boise, Idaho – Energy Finance Solutions – Enterprise Cascadia; HomeStreet Bank – Neighbor’s Financial Corporation – Paramount Equity Mortgage – Quicken Loans – SOFCU Community Credit Union – Stonegate Mortgage Corporation – Sun West Mortgage Company – The Bank at Broadmoor – University of Virginia Community Credit Union – Viewtech Financial Services – WinTrust Mortgage – W. J. Bradley Mortgage Capital Corporation

According to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) website:   “PowerSaver loans will only be available to homeowners who have the wherewithal and motivation to make energy improvements to their home. Borrowers must have credit scores of at least 660 and their total debt to income ratios cannot exceed 45 percent. The combined loan-to-value ratio for all loans on a home, including the PowerSaver loan, cannot exceed 100 percent.”

We have a local installer as well as a local customer who have worked with one of the above banks: Admirals Bank, whose Renewable Energy Lending program, especially the Solar Step Down program sounds quite interesting. 

Solar Loan Superior to a Car Loan

Local bankers have told us that they offer unsecured loans for cars but not for a solar installation. Why? They tell us that a car is collateral; i.e. they can roll it away if someone doesn’t pay the loan.

We say the car is devalued the day it rolls off the dealer’s lot, whereas photovoltaic systems systems don’t lose value. Oftentimes, rooftop solar increases a home’s resale value by about $15,000. Rooftop solar projects also don’t take a bite out of the household budget, like a car does with insurance, registration and fuel costs added onto the purchase cost. Instead, a solar installation helps to reduce a household’s energy bills in the long run.

 

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