Few places seem a more appropriate setting for solar installations than the beach. The open ocean provides clear sight of the the sun without the shadows that can prove so frustrating for homeowners elsewhere. And that only supports the natural, if perhaps less rational, feeling that solar power makes sense in a place where people themselves go to soak up the sun.
So perhaps places like Cape Cod might be able to overcome the common conception of New England as a cloudy, stormy place. With its flat terrain and open skies, Cape Cod certainly seems like an ideal place for residential solar installations. Added on top of that, many of the peninsula’s residents cannot help but be aware of how ecologically sensitive the area in which they live truly is.
These were the exact reasons that Rich and Jane of Chatham, Massachusetts, gave SolarFlair when they decided to add a rooftop solar installation. Chatham itself is located on the far southeast corner of the peninsula, shielded from the ocean only by a thin strip of land. Rich and Jane, meanwhile are on the southern end of the town, only a minutes-long walk from the edge of the water. In such a beautiful natural environment, the couple decided they should be able to get most of their power from renewable sources.
As it turns out, the state of Massachusetts agreed with them. While the federal tax rebate program has proven an important support for the solar industry around the country, Massachusetts offers a variety of solar incentives that made the decision easy for the couple.
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency reports that the state has had a tax credit program worth 15 percent of the cost of a photovoltaic solar installation, up to $1,000, since 1979. A more recent program offers 85 cents per watt of capacity up to $4,250 for residential solar installations, and others offer exemptions on sales and property taxes for renewable power systems.
With that much support, Rich and Jane decided they could afford the up-front costs for a system of as many as 30 solar panels. The system would be able to produce 6.75 kilowatts at peak capacity, potentially accounting for around 60 percent of their electricity needs. Ironically, though the couple has open sight-lines to the water, they had to limit the number of solar panels somewhat because of shadowing from another part of the house.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWATTS Calculator, a solar installation that size in Massachusetts would produce around 8,395 kilowatt-hours of electricity. With the state’s residents paying an average of 14.78 cents per kilowatt-hour through October of last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that amounts to savings of more than $1,200 each year.
On top of all the various solar incentives the couple was able to find to help them deal with the up-front costs of solar installations, however, Massachusetts has also created a marketplace for solar renewable energy certificates. These SRECs represent the production of 1 megawatt-hour of electricity and are used by utility companies to help meet renewable portfolio standards set by the state. At present, SRECTrade reports that Massachusetts SRECs for 2011 and 2012 are selling for $550 each. With Rich and Jane producing more than 8 megawatt-hours of electricity, that should represent a further return of more than $4,400 per year. All told, the system will provide plentiful free electricity for decades, even after quickly paying off its own costs.