ReVision Partners with Community Organizers to Kick Off “Solarize Sacopee”

March 23rd, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh
Parsonsfield, Maine - Solar

Lyn Sudlow’s home on Dragonfly Pond (Parsonsfield, Maine) boasts two solar hot water collectors arranged in an awning mount and six solar PV collectors (far left). Her neighbors are now eligible for a group discount through “Solarize Sacopee”

ReVision has kicked off the first grassroots-organized Solarize program in Maine, dubbed “Solarize Sacopee” and compassing the Southwestern Maine towns of Cornish, Limerick, Limington, Maplewood, Newfield, Parsonsfield and Waterboro.

The program follows similar “Solarize” efforts in Maine, New Hampshire, and elsewhere – anyone in the service towns can sign up before a given deadline (June 1), and as more people sign up, a greater volume discount will be available to everyone. Discounts will range $200-$600 depending on size of system and how many people sign up during the campaign.

Solarize Sacopee came to be thanks to a grassroots group, Ossipee Towns for Sustainability. The members of the OTFS get together to follow the ‘transition town’ model, a movement that started in the UK that works to get a community to be fiscally local – encompassing food, transportation, and, of course, energy.

We spoke to OTFS member Peter Christensen (more on him in our customer FAQ this month) about how the group got interested in solar. Peter told us that:

Most of us at OTFS were curious about solar, but we were not sure where to start. We initially did a ‘Make Your Own Solar Panel’ workshop – we had an expert from New York present an all day workshop where we learned how to solder together silicon cells and weatherproof them to build a 65-watt solar module. It was a great learning experience, but when we did the math, we determined that it is more economically viable to buy commercially made modules than to make your own!

The next phase was us trying to figure out how to find a local commercial solar installer. I actually learned about ReVision Energy because one of their staff members was in an anti-tar sands rally. I thought, ‘This is a company who has a passion for what they are doing.’ Ultimately we had Jen Hatch come out to do a talk in a very informal living room setting, which created much enthusiasm. The idea of us coming together as a “Solarize” Community was born.

Details (and signup) for Solarize Sacopee at: http://www.solarizesacopee.com/

We’d also be happy to organize a Solarize campaign in YOUR town or city, contact ReVision Energy to get things started!


An energy-efficient, solar-powered home in Canterbury

March 11th, 2015 by christine

mcguinn-smith-house-canterbury-nhPowered by the sun and heated with not one drop of fossil fuel, Ruth Smith and Beth McGuinn’s home reflects their commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency—and a passion to share their knowledge and home with others.

The two-story, 1,800-square-foot saltbox-style home, called FeatherLeaf Farm, has been opened to the public during several home and garden tours hosted by church, community and green building groups—both during and after construction.

“We wanted to build a green, energy-efficient home that would be accessible to people,” she says. “We want to show this is a house anybody can build. We didn’t want it to be a complicated science project.”

Full article available here: http://www.nhhomemagazine.com/March-April-2015/An-energy-efficient-solar-powered-home-in-Canterbury/


Landmark Maine Value of Solar Study Confirms Solar’s Value is Higher than Fossil Fuels

March 10th, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh

Solar Electric Array Shows Value of SolarMaine’s first independent study of solar energy’s value has found that the 25-year value of each kilowatt-hour of distributed solar is worth $0.337 to the grid, or, more than double the retail rate of electricity (Press release).

These findings, which consider avoided market costs and societal benefits in the form of avoided pollution, echo those of similar studies in Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.

In fact, every independent study that’s been conducted finds that solar’s true market value is equal to and in most cases far higher than the compensation solar customers receive as part of net metering agreements with the utility.

Stated simply, the Maine PUC’s value of solar study puts a monetary value to solar’s ability to:

  • Generate power during times of high grid stress (summertime peak load)
  • Avoid line losses by generating power locally
  • Reduce need for transmission infrastructure upgrades
  • Reduce a suite of pollutants (CO2, NOx, SO2) emitted by regional power plants

While also:

  • Disproving the utility argument that solar costs more than it provides in benefits to the system
  • Omitting the value of avoided costs of natural gas pipeline buildout or additional distribution lines

Download the whole thing: Maine Distributed Solar Valuation Study (PDF) – A whopping 178 pages!

Value to the Utility vs. The Value to You

Our customers and the thousands of Mainer’s who have made investments in solar energy over the last few years already know that solar energy systems provide substantial environmental and economic return on investment for them individually.  What the Maine PUC’s study shows clearly is that those solar investments also generate lots of value for ALL Mainers.

Contrary to the critic’s argument that Maine’s net metering policy is a subsidy that shifts utility costs unfairly onto non solar rate payers, the PUC’s ‘Value of Solar’ study shows that net metered solar systems generate value for all rate payers well in excess of their costs. And so if anything, solar system owners are being under compensated for the value their systems bring to the grid and the report identifies policy changes to rectify that, which has the potential to lead to substantial additional solar development around the State.”

Methodology: Calculating Energy Costs

Solar Value Chart Levelized over 25 years

 

It’s important to note that the report was not produced or funded by any industry or environmentally-oriented group.  Maine’s PUC (2 of 3 of whom are LePage appointees) commissioned this study using a neutral third party.

The basic premise of the report is that solar’s value cannot be evaluated solely against the wholesale cost of polluting sources of energy. Instead, it must be appreciated in its context of our entire electricity system, from the originating power plant through the transmission and distribution system and finally to its end use at a consumer’s home or business.  The fact that solar energy is produced and consumed very close to the electric needs it meets is an important part of its value.

Those elements comprise what the authors of the study called the “Avoided Market Costs” – the real, obvious things like avoided cost of generating fossil energy (8 cents per kilowatt-hour), and costs that solar itself incurs, like requiring additional flexibility from the power grid to support its intermittent nature (1/2 cent per kilowatt-hour).

The report takes into consideration solar’s impact on reducing the need to build new transmission infrastructure (1.4 cents per kilowatt-hour) but notably omits assigning a value to avoided distribution capacity build-out (as GridSolar has argued) or avoided natural gas pipeline costs (as we have pointed out, some in Augusta would like to force Maine ratepayers pay for $1.5 billion in new natural gas pipelines). The modeled Avoided Market Cost value of solar, levelized over 25-years is $0.138 per kilowatt-hour.

Societal Benefits

That reducing pollution has value is incontrovertible. The methodology used to assign a monetary value to a social benefit is trickier. In this study, the authors use region-specific data on common pollutants (C02, NOx, and S02) released by power plants, adjusted to Maine’s typical fuel mix based on time of day and times of the year (since solar is more likely to be reducing power plant use on hot summer days, for example).

The future price of carbon is somewhat uncertain, however the report uses the expected adoption of the EPA Clean Power Plan Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to model future costs to meet federal carbon emissions standards.  Compliance to existing carbon standards is already worked into the market price of electricity (due to Maine’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – RGGI), so the embedded current cost of carbon compliance is removed from the expected future cost.

The study uses an extremely conservative approach towards modeling these pollution standards and does not consider more serious externalities such as anthropogenic climate change.  Remember, this study is designed to ascertain solar’s value to utility companies like CMP, not for society as a whole.  A similar (but simpler) methodology is used to assign a market value to NOx and SO2.

The per kilowatt-hour health value of reducing this trifecta of pollutants is modeled at $0.199 per kilowatt-hour.

Solar's Value to CMP

Policy Implications

The report’s release does not immediately effect anyone with a solar electric array – solar owners in Maine and New Hampshire remain eligible for 1:1 compensation for kilowatt-hours produced under each state’s net metering laws.

The real impact is that this report sets the context for the upcoming legislative session where several solar bills will be under intense scrutiny. The report itself is the product of legislation passed last year, LD1652 “An Act To Support Solar Energy Development in Maine.” LD1652 not only directed the PUC to conduct the study on the value of solar, but also then directs the State “to encourage the attraction of appropriately sited development related to solar energy” – a job which now falls to Maine’s legislature.

While the report refuses to endorse any particular solar policy, it does compare Maine’s policy framework to the solar policy framework of the other New England States and New York.  While certain fundamentals – such as net metering – exist, Maine is far behind other states when it comes to nearly every other aspect of solar policy.

Maine solar rebates compared to other states

And in New Hampshire…

The Maine PUC’s findings are regionally significant, especially for customers in the New Hampshire Electric Co-op (NHEC). NHEC is currently conducting its own study on the value of solar in its service territory, and it stands to reason their results will be similar to the Maine PUC’s, justifying a continuation of current net metering rules (which may be a bargain for utility companies!).

For those on the fence regarding a solar array, who live in NHEC territory, we understand that current net metering terms will be honored for projects with an interconnect application applied for by May 1, 2015 – it will be to your advantage to get the project started by that date!

What to Do?

This study should send a powerful signal to lawmakers that solar energy is valuable and worth supporting, however, in and of itself it changes nothing.  It is up to legislators to enact better legislation and up to their constituents to keep them honest!

If you wish to get involved in grassroots organizing around solar, we encourage you to connect with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who is exhibiting a lot of leadership this legislative session.  We feel cautiously optimistic about solar policy; while we know the LePage administration is firmly opposed to renewable energy, there is broad bi-partisan support in the legislature and a growing body of evidence to support solar’s ability to grow the economy, create jobs, and save middle-class families money in addition to its environmental benefits.


Maine and NH Legislative Outlook: Progress and Struggles for Solar in the Northeast

February 17th, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh

With new legislative sessions taking shape, we are heartened by the growing support for renewable energy in the legislatures of Maine and New Hampshire, a reflection of solar’s growing importance as a reliable, locally made and economically beneficial source of energy.

Some updates:

Maine: Solar Farms, SRECs, and… a Rebate?

Several new solar bills have been proposed and will be considered this session. The most ambitious, sponsored by Rep. Gideon (D-Freeport), would establish a Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market in Maine, paid for by a carve-out from Maine’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS).

An SREC market is a performance-driven financial incentive for solar energy products, which generates payments for the solar owner based on the system’s actual production. The rate for RECs would vary (the most ever would be $200 per Megawatt-hour of production). Most likely – if everything went well – a homeowner could sell RECs in the range of $50-$125 per REC. For example, a homeowner with a 5-kilowatt solar array might earn $250-625 additional revenue per year for their system’s production, above the actual savings from their utility company. The bill will be called “An Act to Create Jobs and Promote Investment in Maine’s Economy through Increased Access to Solar Energy,” but full text is not yet printed.

A smaller, but important, provision in the Bill would raise the arbitrary cap on participants in community solar farms from 10 to 25. Speaking of community solar farms, here is some video from the first CSF to be installed in Maine, in South Paris this past summer:

See our website for more info on solar farms.

Other solar bills being drafted would aim to support solar adoption for rural farms, and offer incentives for solar and heat pump combination systems.

Helping to shape the discussion of solar in this session will be the “Value of Solar” study due out soon from Maine’s PUC. The VoS is being written in response to legislation passed last year, “The Maine Solar Energy Act.” Similar studies, such as the historic one in Minnesota, found that traditional metrics severely under-valued solar energy’s contribution to the grid, and set a precedent for a market-based price for solar energy which would be greater than the compensation received under the terms of current net metering policy.

Updates will start to get fast and furious as we get deeper into this year’s legislation session. Solar supporters throughout the State should contact their elected officials on all levels of government and voice their support of solar. We especially encourage those living in Maine’s rural areas to make their voice heard: an enduring myth that solar is only for wealthier coastal areas of Maine persists and threatens the availability of clean energy for Mainers of all walks of life.

We also recommend following the Natural Resources Council of Maine who have made solar advocacy a major focus this year and are providing incredible grassroots organizing efforts towards the promotion of solar.

New Hampshire: Increasing Electric Bills = Better ROI for Solar

NH_Elec_Coop_logo121508The biggest energy story in New Hampshire for many residents is increasing bills. We have heard from customers who are reporting price hikes by 50% or more in the past month. With Vermont Yankee having just ceased operations, the forecast is for electric rates to continue to increase in the near-term.

New Hampshire’s solar rebate program currently remains well-funded, though there is speculation that the legislator might seek to “raid” RPS funds to balance the budget.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Electric Co-op (NHEC) is the first utility in New Hampshire to near their net metering cap. Under state law, utilities must offer solar net metering for customers up to a cap of 50 megawatts, divvied up amongst the electric utilities based on their size. NHEC is the first utility to near its cap (3.16MW), a result of strong interest in homeowners in their territory going solar, helped by NHEC’s own extra solar incentive (which has ranged as high as $2,750, in addition to the NH State rebate of $3,750).

How NHEC responds to the cap will set an important precedent as to the relationship of solar and utility companies in New Hampshire – will NH’s utilities adapt to a decentralized, smarter, and renewable powered grid, or fight for an outdated business model, as others have? To its credit, the NHEC tends to be very open to feedback from its customer base, and during a “listening” session held on Feb 11, 2015 a lively and civil debate was held discussing the nature of solar adoption in the NHEC going forward.

There was strong demand for a transparent process assessing the true cost/value of solar in the NHEC. The perception persists that solar generation for individuals pushes costs of maintaining the grid onto other customers, however this issue has not been fully studied in New Hampshire to date. Solar and non-solar customers alike agreed that NHEC needs a sustainable, long-term business plan, however, the solar community pressed that it is difficult to set a meaningful policy regarding net metering if the cost/value is not well understood. NHEC is currently conducting their own “value of solar” study and solar advocates pleaded for that work to be completed before NHEC drafts any new solar policy.

So far, NHEC has voluntarily raised their cap by another 240 kilowatts, allowing solar PV projects in the pipeline to continue to be installed under today’s net metering terms. We’ll keep you updated.


“Own Your Power” Solar Loan Helps NH Homeowner Ditch Power Bills

February 10th, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh
Hudson, NH - 7.65kw Solar PV Installation

This 7.35kw grid tied solar electric system will provide nearly all of the energy needs for the Granger home in Hudson, New Hampshire

The Grangers, like many families in New Hampshire, wanted to make a solar investment to provide long-term energy savings and help the environment. But – also like many families – making the upfront investment seemed daunting at first. Then they discovered our “Own Your Power” loan program, which allows a homeowner to purchase a solar array for no money down, swapping their electric bill for a monthly solar loan payment.

“Comparing available technologies and companies out there, ReVision seemed like the clear choice to partner with,” says Dennis Granger, “I would have eventually proceeded even without the Own Your Power loan, but the loan helped me move forward sooner.”

The Own Your Power loan is actually two loans. One is a short term, no-interest loan (for an introductory 12 or 18-month period) which covers the portion of the project cost reimbursed by state and federal incentives. The remaining project balance is financed as at fixed-rate, 2.99% loan paid over 12 years. The result is that a homeowner no longer needs a large upfront cash investment to go solar, and homeowners with limited home equity (but good credit) can get easy access to financing.

Dennis says that ReVision’s attentive, full service staff made the loan and project process go as smoothly as possible. “Dan and the staff at ReVision were incredibly friendly and helpful at every step of the project,” he says, “They helped by answering all of my questions, helping with the financing and even taking care of the state PUC rebate.”

Dennis’ praise extends to the installation team, who he says “were friendly, knowledgeable and did impeccable work. I am extremely particular so the fact I cannot provide ANY suggestions to improve their workmanship or customer interaction is a great testament for the team.”

The Grangers have only had solar installed since August, but the results have been good so far. “The system went online the last week in August so of course it’s been running as the shorter days of the year were upon us,” Dennis says, “In the first two months it produced almost 100% of our power! From what I’ve seen, I believe we are on track to produce the estimated 9,500 kilowatt-hours per year.”

The only issue Dennis notes is that “with all these snow storms we’ve found that huge amounts of snow will slide off the panels all at once.” For the record, ReVision recommends NOT worrying too much about trying to clear snow from your solar panels as in most cases they shed quite well by themselves. If you feel that the sliding snow becomes a safety hazard, contact us and we can provide some tips.

You can learn more about Own Your Power on our website:http://www.revisionenergy.com/maine-nh-solar-financing-loans.php or contact us for a free evaluation of your home: http://www.revisionenergy.com/solar-site-evaluation.php