Here Comes the Sun: Solar Energy Options in Massachusetts

Using solar energy is increasingly a viable option for many, even condo-dwellers, renters, and those with imperfect or shaded roofs. Here are four different ways to make use of solar-generated power for any living arrangement.

Buying solar panels

Homeowners can get the most savings in the long term from buying their own solar panel array. To buy solar panels,

  • homeowners must own their roof,
  • the roof should be in good condition,
  • there needs to be enough sun exposure, and
  • the configuration, pitch, and style of the roof must support construction of panels.

Not only can homeowners use the energy for their own electrical use, but if there is a surplus of energy, it can be sold back to the utility. For now, that happens in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs).

(Note that Massachusetts is changing the system for selling surplus energy. You will still be able to sell, but potentially at a different rate.)

Leasing solar panels

Buying panels isn’t for everyone. Under leasing options, homeowners don’t pay for the solar panels upfront, but lease use of the equipment for a fixed amount per month. The low bar to entry makes this an attractive option. Some considerations to weigh:

Functioning equipment

If the equipment breaks, homeowners rely on typical utilities for their energy until the company comes to make repairs—and still be paying the monthly lease fee.

Winters

New England winters are an important consideration for a similar reason. If there is not adequate light or panels have snow cover, they may not be making much energy. Homeowners may find themselves paying for a typical utility bill in addition to the lease payments.

Purchase Plan Agreements (PPAs)

PPAs are similar to leasing in that the company installs the panels—usually for no or low cost—then charges homeowners for their electrical usage at a rate less than the typical electric utility. The amount of savings depends on a homeowner’s unique roof and amount of sun exposure.

Winston Vaughan of Level Solar says savings can range from 20–25% over typical electrical utilities. An individual homeowner’s saving depends on the agreement, as well as the functional solar space on a particular roof.

Off-site solar options

Renters, condo owners whose associations don’t want to go solar, or those with shady roofs can still access green energy other ways.

Community Shared Solar

Community Shared Solar (CSS) finds a parcel that supports a solar panel systems, from which members purchase energy.

Change your electric company

Another possibility is changing power providers. Residents can choose to source their electricity from a company that uses green power. Due diligence is called for to avoid scams or poorly-rated companies.

Savings grow as electric costs increase

When considering the long-term savings for any of these solutions, it’s vital to factor in rate increases utility companies institute each year.

Solar prices stay fixed, even under a number of lease and PPA options. As utility prices rise, solar-generated savings grow.