A man and a woman stand in front of their home, next to a sign that reads "We Went Solar!"

Want to go solar? One resident examines the options

May 13, 2016 ,

On February 15th, 2016, fellow co-op members Thomas Wellems and Marilyn Powell (pictured in the image above) became the 27th household of the Rockville Solar Co-op to see electricity generated from the sun via rooftop solar panels powering their home. Since then 10 members have also been connected, and others are in the queue for panel installation and grid hookup. When all 63 active members are connected, the co-op will be harnessing the sun with 442 kilowatts (kW) of solar power capacity.

What is a solar co-op?

Solar co-ops are groups of interested residents and businesses that use their collective buying power to lower the cost of solar panel equipment and installation. Joining a solar co-op reduces the cost by having one installer purchase all of the equipment and perform all of the installations (the Rockville co-op used two). Additionally, organizations like MD SUN can assist with the co-op with additional benefits such as having expert guidance through the process, advice from current solar homeowners, and participation in selection of the group’s vendor or vendors.

 

Image of solar panels on a roof

 

The Rockville co-op, which began in April 2015, is the largest and most successful of its kind so far in Maryland. It includes members who are interested in having their homes powered by solar energy but are still considering the best way to do that. Our family falls into that category. We’ve switched a lot of our previous gas consumption to electric by having a geoexchange (geothermal) system installed to provide heating and cooling, using an electric mower, and leasing a LEAF electric vehicle. It would be great to have all this powered straight from the sun. What are our options?

Option #1: Own

Pay to have solar panels that we will own installed on the roof (or elsewhere on the property).

Option #2: Lease

Have a company install solar panels on our roof, via a power purchase agreement, that we would host in exchange for a set, reliable electricity rate, but not own.

Option #3: Community solar

Put no solar panels on our own roof/property, but sun-power our house by joining a community solar block. This will allow us to gain the benefits of solar without installing panels.

Examining the options

Because our house is reasonably suitable for solar (facing mostly east and a little south – with completely south-facing being the ideal), and because we’re not exactly sure how long we’ll remain in this house, option #1 or #3 appear to be our best choices. However, leasing solar panels may be a viable option for other homeowners.

Using information gleaned mostly from the informative and active MD-SUN email group (thanks especially to MD-SUN Program Director Corey Ramsden, and to all the other members of various area co-ops who have shared so much useful information), these are my thoughts about options currently available to us and other Montgomery County homeowners:

Solar panels that are owned by the homeowner have been shown to increase the home’s value. The upfront cost of installation is mitigated by a 30% federal tax credit (which will now extend through 2019 and then decline gradually to 10 percent by 2022), a $1,000 Maryland Residential Clean Energy Grant, and by selling SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Certificates) based on the amount of energy the panels produce. There has been much discussion on the MD-SUN list about how best to go about selling SRECs, with the consensus appearing to be that you’re probably best going with a broker. Here’s more information about how to sell your SRECs.

Our main obstacle to putting solar panels on our roof has been the additional cost of having to remove a large (but dying) tree and replace the aging roof on our house first. For us and anyone with similar issues of affordability or solar suitability, there is now the option of community solar.

We ruled out option #2 because leasing panels and entering into a power purchase agreement (read about the differences between those here) make the most sense for homeowners who want to eliminate the upfront cost of installation AND who will be in their homes for at least 5 years after installation (at which point the system may often be purchased from the installing company, depending on the terms of your contract).

While leasing/PPAs allow you to host solar panels and lock in a consistent electricity rate over time with the solar panel company, selling your house while a lease or PPA is in effect can prove difficult, for reasons outlined in this November 2015 Washington Post article.

A three-year pilot program for community solar was signed into law in Maryland in May 2015, and draft regulations have recently been published that will soon make the program a reality. With community solar, individuals (subscribers) who sign up to buy the energy from a portion of a block of solar panels installed by a local business or community group receive s credit on their utility bill for the amount of power their portion of the block generated.

Policies that define how it will operate are still being developed, but it looks very promising, with 30% of capacity set aside for low and moderate income subscribers, full retail credit (same economic benefits as for traditional net metering customers ), and incentive for development at brownfield sites.

We’ll be on the lookout in coming months to see what organizations like Neighborhood Sun offer, and whether community solar or solar panels on our own house make more sense, especially if another solar co-op comes to Montgomery County in 2016. We are grateful to live in a city and state where great incentives are offered to encourage residents to use renewable energy.

Guest blog by Helen Triolo. Helen has lived in Rockville for 25 years, and has served on the Rockville Environment Commission since 2015. She and her family continue to work on making their home more energy efficient and their lives less fossil fuel dependent.

 

(7) Comments

  1. Christine May 21, 2016

    Solar City offers a lease arrangement. Their offer was to charge me about $70 a month for electricity. I have gas heat and do not want to change. I use electricity for refrigerator, lights, computer and occasional space heater in a cold bathroom.

    My highest electrical bill is about $35 and is even lower during the summer when Pepco gives the $16 a month rewards discount. My single house provides plenty of cooling with windows open. So for a single person who is away from home, working, does not use A/C or many electrical appliances, except for an older refrig,. a lease situation is more expensive than what I have now. A lease arrangement works well for larger families and heavier users of electricity.

    In the future, I will not be away working and may get an electric car and would consider coop install and own plan.

    • Gwen Bausmith May 23, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Christine! You’re right, different living situations make sense for different power options, they’re not one-size-fits-all. That’s great that you’ve done your research and hopefully a solar co-op is a good option for you in the future!

  2. Katerine Jones Dec 29, 2016

    I recently availed the service of solar panel installation from 3GEN Power. I must say they are very good helping out installing a solar panel at my residence. In need of installing solar panels at my office as well. Need to compare them with your service.Are your service extended to Victoria, Australia as well ?

    • Larissa Johnson Jan 03, 2017

      Katerine, We are so excited that someone in Australia is looking at our website about solar! Unfortunately most of the solar installers that worked with the Co-ops in Maryland were local installers so not sure if they would be able to provide services in Australia as well. Good luck with your solar journey!

  3. Sachin Jan 03, 2017

    Hi ,
    I want to find more about this program and see how it will be helpful to consume green energy.
    I got estimate from one solar panel supplier/installer and was really expensive.
    Please reach out to me so I can attend any seminar/meeting regarding this program.

    Thank you
    Sachin

    • Larissa Johnson Jan 03, 2017

      Sachin,

      The Montgomery County Solar Co-Op was quite a success in 2016. We may have more meetings in the late Summer, early Fall 2017 but if you are looking for information today, I would suggest contacting MDSun as they were the ones who put the Solar Co-Op together in the County and throughout the state. You find out more about the Montgomery County Co-Op here: http://www.mdsun.org/montgomery/ and I would suggest signing up for the MDSun Listserv as that is a forum to ask many questions about solar and they are a great resource: http://www.mdsun.org/join-the-conversation/. Good luck in your solar journey!

  4. arpit Apr 10, 2017

    Nice blog and wonderful tips now get solar powered refrigerator to save energy and cool things.

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