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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Solar at the edge of the woods

Hearing about the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program, and like me, having dreamt for over 30 years of solar panels powering her home, this resident of Marion Lane in Mt Airy went to a discussion at Germantown Friends Meeting last January.

She was impressed with Mark Bortman of Exact Solar and easy explanation of the process of joining the clean energy revolution. The discussions after Mark’s presentation really helped to cinch her decision to invest in rooftop solar, and, as the story goes, she signed up on the last day of the program.

photo: Exact Solar

The system of 19 panels cost her $15,000, with the final cost about $10,000 after the federal tax credit. It is designed with a 4.94 kW capacity generating about 5100 kWh per year, which is pretty good for a flat roof with some shade. There are even 2 panels on the tiny front roof, at the far end of this photo.

Why did she spend such a large chunk of her retirement funds into something on her roof that she never really saw? She tells me in one word: Climate.

The system should pay for itself over time with the greatly reduced PECO bills. The solar installation covers 100% of her electric usage except in the winter.

 

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Solar in our Midst

Pole Mounted Solar for the backyard

A friend in Flourtown really wanted to go solar, except that she had a tiny roof and two beautiful gigantic spruce trees near her house which made it difficult.  However, she also lived at the end of a street and her backyard faced a field with trees in the distance. She decided to put up a 12 panel solar array mounted on a pole.  With the assistance of a solar installer, she worked through all the details including trenching the cable back to the house, and she now has a very large, and to some, beautiful, structure in her backyard. It is invisible to the street.

The system is rated for 3.5 kW (kilowatt), which means at peak sunlight she would get more power than she currently needs, even with the planned electric car and the high efficiency heat pump she hopes is in her future. Over  the course of the year she should see a net contribution to the utility grid with a check from PECO, our local power company,  to pay her for that extra power that has gone from her house to power other people’s houses.

On October 5th, 2016 she turned on her own personal electrical power plant. This is similar to solar on a rooftop, but feels more substantial when it sits in the back yard. The panels, US made by CertainTeed, are wired in series and lead into a giant inverter on the back of the pole with a meter showing power generation.  

On December 13th at 9:30 AM, when this picture was taken, it was generating 492 watts as the sun rose over the trees, increasing to 860 watts by 10 AM on a grey day.   Note that this was very near the winter solstice — in other words, hardly optimal “sun” time. 

There is an “eye” on the top of the panels that is watching the sun and it will tell the mechanism behind the panels to adjust the panels so they are at an optimal angle to the sun. This system does bidirectional tracking (east/west plus more/less tilted to the sky). This cost for this about $2200 more, but should increase output by 33%, estimated to generate about 4690 kWh the first year. 

In June, expect to see sunflowers planted along the walkway, that have known how to track the sun for eons. The solar panels reset to the southeast every night, ready for the sun to come up the next day.

This is a small system capacity by any standard, but felt enormous as we stood beside it, towering beside the decades tall spruce trees. In an effort to merge this large object with the landscape, the owner added landscaping around the panels to soften their visual impact, using only native plants, most of which will provide food to butterflies and bees, come warmer weather. Shocked by the size of the panels, the owner reached out to her neighbors to reassure them that the new plantings would mostly cover the backside of the panels, but most didn’t seem to be bothered by the visual, and instead complimented her.

The inverter, by Fronius, converts the direct current (DC) that is produced by the solar panels to alternating current (AC) that is needed for all the electrical loads inside the house.  The AC current is sent down a wire inside a conduit which goes underground then through the basement to a meter in the front of the house. 

This meter is paired with another meter that comes in from the power company. One meter calculates the energy being sent out to the power company and the other tracks the power coming into the house from the power company. There is also a very important shut off box that is needed to cut the power from the solar panels in case of a fire or other emergency.  She is working with the local fire house to figure out the best way to notify fire fighters about this box. It may be a sticker next to her “Save my pets” sign on her front door, already addressed to them.

We saw a cool tracking app made by Fronius, the company that made the inverter. This homeowner is now not only a tree-hugger but also an inverter hugger, saying she loves her Fronius! I can see why; the phone-based application shows the energy generated in the past few days, as well as the cumulative the CO2 reduction, the money saved, and equivalent trees planted. The EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator shows that generating 4690 kWh with solar panels is like reducing 3.3 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, or not driving 7899 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle, or switching 117 incandescent lamps to LEDs, or the carbon sequestered by 85 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. 

The cost of the system was just under $20,000.  She will get 30% of this back when she files her taxes because of the federal tax credit that is in place until 2019. She will also receive a small amount of money for the solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) from the power company, a monthly savings on her electric bill since she won’t have to buy the electricity from PECO, plus an annual check for all the surplus energy that she generates.

She figures 8 to 9 years for this system to payback, but the real payback has already happened.  She loves her panels, loves her inverter and is very happy knowing she’s making her own clean power.

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Solar on Wissahickon Avenue

A young tradesman had been looking for DIY kits to install solar on his own rooftops when he came across posters for the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program. He went to an educational meeting, assuming he’d meet many homeowners in his age group, all concerned about climate and wanting to participate in the clean energy scene, only to  discover that he was the youngest in attendance; that most of the others were property managers only looking for a financial incentive to install solar.

panels

He signed on to the program, got Exact Solar to install the panels in July of 2015, and now proudly sports 13 panels on their second and third floor roofs on Wissahickon Ave in Mt Airy.

This 3.3kW system cost them a total of $12,500. The 30% federal tax credit helped. As did a 10 year solar loan from Admiral Bank for the balance, which works out to a payment of about $100 per month.

Their peak usage month has been June. On a sample month, this family’s PECO bill showed usage of 205 kWh, and generation of 182 kWh. The bill reflected this, and only billed them for generation, transmission and distribution for 23 kWh.

sample-bill

He thinks that all new construction should have solar in it’s design. I agree! What’s not to like?

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Roxborough home with rooftop solar

Yesterday, I learned of another home in the northwest that had rooftop solar installed last summer, as part of the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program organized by the Clean Air Council & Sustainable Business Network last year, with Exact Solar & Solar States as the two preferred contractors. which resulted in about 15 homes with solar on their rooftops.

If you’re one of these area residents, and would like to share your story, please contact Meenal at nwphlsolar at gmail.comfowler

This 10.66 kW system is on a gracious 3000+ square foot, 3 story home on Fowler Street in Roxborough, with almost 40 panels spanning the 4 roofs.

The family is very happy with the installation, especially the monthly bill of about $7 during the months when they don’t use the air conditioner.

The total cost was $32,000, which reduced their taxes the following April by about $9,600, thanks to the 30% Federal tax credit.

Curious about a solar installation for your home? Write us with your address and we’ll do a quick check on whether solar is possible on your rooftop.

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Second in the series of local solar installations

Area residents happy with their 1+ year solar installation recently spoke at their neighborhood group. We learned of this, and met up with them to learn more.

This family was part of the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program organized by the Clean Air Council & Sustainable Business Network last year, with Exact Solar & Solar States as the two preferred contractors. which resulted in about 15 homes with solar on their rooftops. If you’re one of these area residents, and would like to share your story, please contact Meenal at nwphlsolar at gmail.comstory2

Residents of Cresheim Road in Mt Airy, they had their solar panels installed June 2015. They’ve been happy with the installation. Though they discovered they needed a new roof, the roof replacement was well coordinated between local roofer Russell Roofing and solar installer Exact Solar.

The system cost them about $17,000, paid in two chunks. The first payment of about $12,000 was made when the job was completed. The balance was paid the following spring, when they used the 30% Federal tax credit to finish paying Exact Solar the balance of about $5000 owed them on the installation.

The 21 panel system was sized to generate about 92% of their electricity usage, about 5940 watts. Though their bill peaked at $127 when both the air conditioner and dehumidifier were running, the most recent bill has been about $8. Having lived a full year with this installation, they report seeing many months with just the minimum $8 charge.

To occasionally check on the electricity being generated by the rooftop panels, they open up the Solar Edge app on their phones.

Curious about a solar installation for your home? Write us with your address and we’ll do a quick check on whether solar is possible on your rooftop.

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In case you missed our kickoff party last week…

In case you couldn’t make it to our kickoff party last week…here’s what you missed!

Several members of our Board were present, notably Arthur Waskow, Barb Bloomfield,  Chris Hill, Meenal Raval & Peter Winslow, plus Cheryl Pyrch, Pastor of Summit Presbyterian Church and Chair of Philadelphia chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.

Barbara opened up the P’Nai Or space inside Summit Church with a nice spread of snacks. We were honored to have Arthur’s presence for the opening as well as the closing, and for bringing us all together.

Our guest speaker was Anya Schoolman of Community Power Network (CPN) in DC. Anya’s passion was infectious, as she shared how her organization was formed, initially as Mt Pleasant Co-op, then DC-SUN (Solar United Neighborhoods).

We spoke of our recent decisions…

  • to bring together people in Northwest Philadelphia to buy into rooftop solar;
  • to work on clean energy advocacy at the City & State level;
  • to help folks who can’t install solar on their roofs to still participate; perhaps initially with a local lending club to assist others to solarize and later, with community solar where they could invest in solar on someone else’s rooftop (or parking lot) and still get credited on their electric bill.
  • to working with CPN, which is a non-profit supporting multiple communities engaged in adding solar to their homes. That perhaps over next next few months, we could morph into a Philly-SUN.
  • to working with Exact Solar on the first round of installations while we learned about the industry, coordinating a weekly check-in, and a pledge towards collaborative problem solving.

We also spoke of our need to build teams for

  • Outreach – to speak at community events and recruit more people
  • Roof Assessment – to see if roof of an interested participant could indeed be viable for solar
  • Bid Selection – for a later stage
  • Loan Committee / Legal – for our neighborhood lending program, because we want no rooftop left behind, especially for lack of funding.

And  of the history of local solarization projects…

  • Solarize Northwest – Organized by Clean Air Council and the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadephia in January of 2015, in partnership with solar contractors Exact Solar and Solar States, this resulted in about 15 homes in the Northwest getting solarized. One resident who participated in this and has rooftop solar on her home, was present tonight.
  • Solarize Greater Media – Organized by Transition Town Media and Solar States this Spring of 2016, about 50 households signed up. More about this effort is found here. Sari Steuber, the President of Transition Town Media was present to share their experiences. Of note is that about 30% of the households were denied inter-connection by PECO because of antiquated lines. PECO needs to prepare for more and more people demanding clean energy.
  • and lastly, Solarize Center City has their kickoff event coming up on Wednesday Oct 5, 2016. It’s organized by Center City Residents Association and Solar States. Read about it here, and if you’re a Center City resident reading this, please plan on attending by registering here.

Also present were…

  • Ron Celentano of Celentano Energy Services and Pennsylvania Division of MSEIA (Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association. Ron suggested we support a campaign; that of Vera Cole for State Rep in Bucks County, who has worked tirelessly at the MAREA, the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association.
  • Robert Monk of Solar States
  • Eileen Flanagan and Duncan Wright of Earth Quaker Action Team, who spoke of their campaign to push PECO to power local green jobs, notably to build up PV installations within Philadelphia.
  • Rita Varley, a resident of Far Northeast Philadelphia was present. Rita mentioned comparing her electric bill with her neighbors this past very hot summer (hers was $50, theirs was about $250), and now has their interest in how she acheived this. We’ve been asked to perhaps speak on energy conservation, insulation & draft sealing, with their civic association.
  • and about 13 neighbors considering solar! We tried to field the questions bubbling up, and agreed to meet again, as a smaller group to work on roof assessment.

Meenal will be learning about roof assessment from Exact Solar this week, and plans to share her learnings with interested neighbors the following week.

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Solarize Center City – Campaign Kickoff

An invitation from a friend, Judy Wicks, who is a Center City resident.


Reduce carbons – Save money – Create green jobs

This fall, I’m teaming up with the Center City Residents Association and Solar States, a local solar installer, to launch a Solarize Center City campaign in which residents in my neighborhood of west Center City can use their collective buying power to purchase solar systems for their properties at greatly reduced costs.

To register for the campaign kick-off event, click here.

Early this year, Solar States installed solar panels on my roof and I am very happy with the quality of their work and the tremendous savings I’ve seen. Importantly, displacing fossil fuel-produced energy with renewable energy curbs climate change and improves air quality, reducing asthma and other illnesses caused by pollution. Rooftop solar provides significant savings to homeowners, while contracting with locally-based Solar States creates green jobs and supports our local economy.

When neighbors solarize together, Solar States can offer discounts – the more neighbors the greater the discount. Solarize campaigns have the potential to reduce the cost of a home solar system by 15% compared to buying a solar installation individually as I did. Combined with the federal tax credit of 30% (click for info on tax credit) that produces savings of 45%, and that’s just the beginning – savings from greatly reduced electric bills will continue over the years.  After all, the sun is free!

About Solar States

Solar States is an experienced solar installation company with its heart and roots in Philadelphia. As a B Corp, they are committed to the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. With over 250 solar installations throughout the region, including two past campaigns – Solarize Northwest Philly and Solarize Greater Media – they’ve proven a positive environmental impact. Through their partnership with Clean Air Council, Solar States educates students through the YouthBuild Philly Charter School and PowerCorps PHL fellowship program, helping them to enter the green collar economy, a field with sustaining wages and career opportunities. These classes have impacted hundreds of Philadelphians and allowed Solar States to employ a talented workforce representative of our diverse city.

My Experience

My rooftop solar went active in March, 2016, and I have been thrilled to see monthly electric bills as low as $7, even though I have an all-electric house (no natural gas).  Of course, this will not be the case in winter, but nevertheless, it is remarkable to see my electric bill under $20 for months in a row, with no gas bill. By using an app on my phone, I am able to monitor my energy generation and consumption in several different graphs in order to coordinate my consumption with the sun. judy-on-roof

This will be demonstrated during the Center City House Tour on Sunday, October 23, 1-5pm.

More than anything, it feels great to know that I am doing my part to reduce carbons. This collaborative campaign gives center city residents a simple and cost effective way to address climate change, the most serious and urgent challenge of our times. Our grandchildren will thank us.


Wednesday, October 5th
Trinity Center for Urban Life
22nd & Spruce Streets
Philadelphia, PA
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

5:30 Wine & Cheese Reception; 6:00 pm – Program


 

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