Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Going Solar

Recently, my husband and I decided to install a solar thermal hot water system at our house in Providence. Despite the loss of a state tax credit, we went ahead with a grant from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation’s Renewable Energy Fund for a similar 25% off the cost of the system. We will also receive a federal tax rebate of 30% off the rest. In order to qualify for the grant program, we needed to have done an energy audit through National Grid. We had done the audit last year, and had already installed additional attic insulation through that program. For anyone who has not gone through an energy audit, it is well worth the effort. We were able to cover the cost of insulating our attic and sealing our entry doors.

This year’s Renewable Energy Fund grant program was for small scale solar projects, and was given to solar installers and community development groups that bundled individual projects. Eight separate groups were awarded funding for 89 residential projects. Our project was done by Island Solar and was bundled with 16 others. Residential solar is gaining in popularity across the country, and incentives are helping increase that growth. With solar panel prices falling and financing available through leases and other agreements, the economics are favoring these small scale projects. Solar in general is proving to be easier to permit and install than wind, and in Massachusetts, for example, solar projects outnumber wind projects by 3 to 1. In total, over 4,000 residential solar projects have been installed in Massachusetts, and installed solar capacity is already over 200 megawatts.

While Massachusetts has strong incentives through tax rebates and rate based programs, Rhode Island ranks last in the Northeast in renewable energy projects.  Efforts to pass bills in the legislature this past session to reinstate the RI renewable energy tax credit were unsuccessful. Representative Deb Ruggerio said that the state spent about $155,000 a year while we had a tax credit which generated over $1 million a year in economic activity for solar installers. Rhode Island has increased larger solar projects with its new distributed generation program.

Rhode Island has some work to do, but I believe that a solar panel on the roof will soon become commonplace. Several communities in California are already requiring all new houses to be built with roof top solar as a standard practice. For me the decision to go solar was about cutting down on my natural gas use and all the baggage that comes with it. Saving money and increasing the value of my house are also good things, as is supporting the effort to change perceptions about renewable energy. We as homeowners have it within our power to change the economics of the energy industry. I am looking forward to seeing the shut down of coal fired power plants like Brayton Point, and hopefully someday soon, the Pilgrim nuclear plant. Let the sun shine!