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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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Rooftop solar and your PECO bill

This post will explore the PECO power bill, before and after going solar. Be sure to check out the “Interesting Issue” near the end of this post.

Looking at a sample of page 2 of a PECO electric bill before going solar, you’ll see 

  • one meter reading showing monthly usage (451 kWh in our sample)
  • one fixed Customer charge of $8.44
  • three charges based on usage for Generation, Transmission & Distribution.

If you’ve gone to PAPowerSwitch and selected another electricity supplier, then you would see Generation & Transmission combined onto one line, with the rate set by that supplier.  

On your first month with solar, it will be a bit complicated for two reasons.

  1. PECO charges the installer for the new meter (part of your payment to the installer), and then PECO gives you a credit on your bill. The amount is between $300 and $400.
  2. You’ll therefore be billed part of the month with the old meter, and the remainder with the new meters.

You’ll see a bill like the one below with 3 meter readings:

  1. Old meter reading, partial month’s usage before switch to solar (sample: 81 kWh)
  2. New “in” meter (also called general service) for electricity you used from PECO (sample :232 kWh)
  3. New “out” meter, for electricity your rooftop system sent to PECO (sample 340 kWh)

plus a Customer charge of $8.43 (or 8.44, not sure why it varies a little).

What this means:
The energy from solar that was sent back to PECO was 27 kWh more than the amount received from PECO (340 – 232 – 81). This surplus 27 kWh will be banked towards next month’s use. You are billed just the Customer charge of $8.43 for the month.

 

To make it more complicated, for this particular bill, the 27 kWh surplus resulted in a  “Renewable Energy Credit” of $2.15 because the bill happened to be in May which is the month when PECO zero’s out the banked distribution of kWhs. They call this “settlement.”

This plus the credit mentioned earlier, for the meter, results in a total credit of $327.06.  Given that the customer charge was $8.43 the bill ends up with a credit of $318.63 that will be carried over to the next month. The image below is Page 1 of the May bill.
Note the “Message Center” which describes the “banked distribution” and the “settlement.”

The following months, when your grid-connected system is in full swing, you’ll see a bill like the one below:

  • 2 meter readings:
    “In” meter, for electricity you used from PECO,  (sample 287 kWh)
    “Out” meter, for electricity your rooftop system sent to PECO, (sample 525 kWh)
  • Customer charge $8.43

In the example, 238 kWh more electricity was sent to the grid than you pulled down  (525-287) . The surplus will go into your “banked distribution” and will be added to next month’s “out” meter reading to determine next month’s bill. If the total of these two is more than the “in” meter, then no charge, if it is ever less than the “in” meter, then you will see the three charges for generation, transmission and distribution for the extra kWh’s used.  This rollover and comparison will occur each month until the next May. In May, PECO will zero out the surplus “banked distribution” with a check or a credit on the bill.


INTERESTING ISSUE – There is one piece of usage information that is not visible on the PECO bill: How much electricity was actually consumed by the loads in the house. Since solar energy is used by the house loads first, PECO does not see this energy so can not meter this energy.

On the 13-Month Usage chart shown above, compare the usage for the prior year’s month of June, before the solar installation, to June of the current year which was after the solar installation. The current year is significantly lower than the prior year. This is because the big usage in June is the air conditioner, and the air conditioner tends to be on during the day when the sun is out and power is being generated by the panels. This is a clear picture of the value of solar because the electricity for the air conditioning load never had to enter the electrical grid. The electricity was consumed right where it was generated.   

The load information is not lost to the homeowner as it is being tracked by the monitoring system from the solar company which is used to track the output of the solar arrays.

This data in combination with the information available on the PECO bill will allow a full picture of the energy flow.

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May 20th update on our 1st group of solar installs

Two more homes have their panels connected to the grid and generating electricity for a total of three!

See the updated chart below listing the steps required to fully implement rooftop solar, along with the status for each of our 12 initial households.

Green = number of households that have completed each step
Red = number of households not yet completed.

Dara Bortman from Exact Solar is managing each of these steps to ensure a smooth process.

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Where are we with our 1st group of solar installs?

Kicked off last October, by the end of February, we had 12 area households step up for rooftop solar installations. Two and a half months later, 3 homes have panels on their roofs. One of these is connected to the grid and generating electricity.

We’ve learned there are quite a few steps to the installation process. See the chart below listing the steps required to fully implement rooftop solar, along with the status for each of our 12 initial households.

Green = number of households that have completed each step
Red = number of households not yet completed.

Dara Bortman from Exact Solar is managing each of these steps to ensure a smooth process.

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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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