SHIRLEY -- Solarize Shirley has gotten a recent boost of energy, and in more ways than one. Its deadline for homeowners to sign a solar photovoltaic installation contract was extended from the end of September to Oct. 31, and Shirley residents now have the added option of signing up for a "$0 down" power purchase agreement.
And there is more good news: The town has now unofficially reached what is known as Tier 3, a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for a 5,000-watt (5 kW) system of an additional $1,250. Tier 3 is the level of participation that produces a minimum of 50 kW annually.
At the third Shirley Energy Committee public forum last night, "Solar 301," committee chair Bryan Dumont said there is still time for the town to reach Tier 4 or 5, which would offer additional savings of $1,250 per tier.
During two previous public forums, Shirley home and business owners learned that, as part of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's Solarize Mass program, they have an opportunity to install solar photovoltaic panels on their property at a lower cost than available elsewhere with very short-term financial payback, and even the choice to lease the system with low or no upfront costs.
Power purchase pact
New England Clean Energy President Mark Durrenberger, NE Clean Energy Community Coordinator Jim Elkind, Dumont, and Shirley Energy Committee member and Town Treasurer Kevin Johnston explained the latest option to go solar, the PPA.
With the PPA, the homeowner does not own the system. "It actually belongs to another company, Clean Power Finance, who puts up the money behind the installation," he said.
"You agree to buy power from that system and they give you a discount over what you would pay National Grid. You can do that with no money down, and the payment to Clean Power Finance and National Grid is lower than the prior bill to National Grid," he explained.
Does it save you money? Yes. You are buying the electricity off the roof.
The price, however, is based on the tilt, direction, size and amount of shade on the roof.
With the PPA, at Tier 3, the price of electricity for a 5K system with an average amount of sun would be about 13 cents per kWh, which is a savings of about $17 the first year. At Tier 4 or 5, the savings would be $72 or $127 that first year, respectively.
There is no down payment required, but optional down payments would lower the price you pay for electricity from your roof and increase your savings. The higher the down payment, the lower the cost per kWh. A down payment of $1,000, $2,500, or $5,000 at Tier 3, for example, would increase the annual savings from $17 to $110, $248 or $475 annually.
According to Dumont, the advantages of entering into a PPA for those who cannot afford to lease or buy outright are that the installation still saves you money on your electric bill, increases the value of your property, reduces your dependency on fossil fuel, offers some protection against rising energy costs and is good for the environment.
At the end of the 20-year agreement, homeowners have the option to buy the solar panels. If they sell, the PPA can be transferred to the buyer of the home. Durrenberger stressed that the quality of the work and the warranties for a PPA are the same as for someone who leases or buys.
The disadvantages of the PPA as compared to buying the system outright are that the savings on your electric bill are 10 to 20 percent lower, as opposed to 50 to 90 percent lower; there is no utility rebate; there are no state and federal tax incentives; and there are no SRECs, or solar renewable energy certificates.
The graphs and charts presented by the panel indicated that an average purchased 5 kW system would offer the best return -- a savings of about $20,000 over 20 years. A comparable leased system would save an estimated $13,000 over 20 years. The PPA savings would depend upon the amount of the down payment. The town's PowerPoint presentation can be found at solarizeshirley.com.