We do our best to answer all of the questions interested homeowners and businesses have about solar. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and the answers to them!
- How long will an installation take?
Our typical residential solar power job takes us about 40 hours of installation time on the roof and about 10 hours inside the house. We typically send two technicians, so most jobs are completed in 2-3 days.That said, our installation queue is typically 6-8 weeks out, sometimes longer, so contact us as soon as you’re interested if you have a sense of urgency about your solar project.
- Will it pay for itself?
Many customers feel that the pride and peace of mind of solar ‘pays for itself’ as soon as the system powers on. From a financial point of view, solar will recoup the outright cash investment in roughly 12 years in Maine or New Hampshire (5 years in Massachusetts). Solar PV provides an 8-10% IRR over 20 years or is immediately cash-flow positive (or neutral) if financed (see: own your power).The system also helps lift the grid overall by providing highly valuable ‘peak’ electricity. With multi-billion dollar grid improvement projects already in place, the one certainty is that rates of grid electricity will go up. Maine’s CMP in is the middle of a $1 billion upgrade project and PSNH rate increases are on the rise due in part to costs to maintain older power plants.
- What are the incentives?
Incentives change periodically, we keep an update to date guide to ME, NH & MA solar rebates. You can expect a 30% federal tax credit taken when you file your yearly taxes, and some sort of state rebate that arrives as a check a few weeks after your system is installed. Maine currently does not have a state rebate. Massachusetts has a “SREC” program that offers additional cash incentives for solar power sold as carbon credits on an annual basis.
- How bad are fracking, tar sands, and climate change?
Very bad. We have in-depth articles on problems with tar sands oil, fracking for natural gas, and the terrifying implications of climate change in Northern New England.
- What’s better? Solar or wind power?
While we’re supportive of all forms of renewable energy, small-scale wind power is generally not cost-effective in the Northeast nor easy to site. In other words, you’ll get more electricity, dollar for dollar, by investing in solar instead of wind. Read on for more about: wind energy vs. solar energy.
- Why should I install a solar energy system on my home or business?
Grid-tied solar electricity offers a way to fix your electricity rate for more than 25 years. The maintenance-free panels come with a 25-year production warranty and the expected useful lifespan is up to 50 years (output starts to slow down over time but is still significant). A grid-tied PV system can protect you from electricity price increases for decades. That’s a feeling of energy security that is hard to duplicate. Solar hot water offers a different value proposition: the opportunity to offset hundreds of gallons of heating oil each year by shutting your boiler down in the summertime and letting the sun do the work.Many of our clients feel better knowing that they are producing their own electricity without any environmental harm – that they are part of the energy solution and no longer part of the problem.
- Why should I go solar now? Aren’t innovative new technologies on the way?
Simply put – the sooner you get solar, the sooner you will enjoy its benefits! If you wait for some unproven technology down the road, you will have missed the opportunity to generate your own power now. Solar is like saving for retirement – the sooner you start doing it, the better. Learn more about why to go solar now.
- Does my roof need to face directly south?
In Northern New England, the ideal roof orientation is 196 degrees on the compass (known as ‘solar south’), but an installation of +/- 50 degrees (155 -245) is also fine. Within this range, power output stays within seven or eight percent of maximum. Even more easterly and westerly roof installations are viable, especially on shallower roofs. For example, a 7/12 roof that is due east or due west still achieves 77% of a system’s potential performance. More important than angle, generally, is shading. We don’t want to see any shading on a solar roof from 9 am to 3 pm, year-round. Technological improvements such as micro-inverters can compensate for shading issues to some extent. The best way to know for certain if your roof is viable for solar is to contact us for a free solar evaluation.
- Will the solar array put holes in my roof, or be too heavy?
We mount solar panels on a purpose-built aluminum rail system that is fastened about every four feet by penetrations into roof rafters. On a standing seam metal roof, these attachments are made directly to the standing seams, with no roof penetrations. On asphalt roofs, each mount is sealed with a 50-year Tripolymer sealant to prevent any leaks. We guarantee all roof work will be free from leaks. As for the weight of the array, it is less than 5 pounds per square foot, so a typically framed roof is more than adequate to carry the weight.
- How much roof space will I need?
Every kilowatt of solar array takes about 75 square feet. So a typical 3kw array (twelve panels) will take a roof area about 11′ tall by 20′ wide (two rows of six).
- What if my roof is not adequate?
We can also pole-mount photovoltaic panels or ground-mount panels on a concrete base. We also offer dual-axis solar trackers built by Vermont-based AllEarth Renewables.
- How will I know if the system is working?
Today nearly all inverters come with built-in monitoring that varies based on manufacturer. By reconciling your production with your electric bill, you can get a good idea what your household’s electric load is and how much of a difference the photovoltaic system is making.
- Can I save money by installing my system myself?
Solar energy systems are sophisticated pieces of equipment and not suitable for DIY type projects. With grid-tied solar electric, you need to contract with a professional company to meet most state rebate program requirements, as well as to perform the interconnection with the utility. With solar hot water, while you can do the plumbing yourself, the cost and risk associated with a poor installation greatly outweighs the cost of hiring a professional. Learn about the true costs of DIY solar.
- How will my utility bill be different with a solar electric system?
It will be smaller! With solar, your inverter and your household loads are all “behind the meter,” meaning that if the sun is out and you are in your house and running loads – say a TV, dryer, and electric stove – your solar-generated power will be consumed without it ever being registered by the utility company. So at the end of the month, your electric bill will say you’ve exported fewer kWh to the grid than your inverter says you have generated. This is because your home consumed some solar power before it was ever sold to the utility. Though it can be a bit confusing, you can feel good about this situation because every kWh you didn’t export, is also a kWh you didn’t have to buy! That’s putting your photovoltaic system to work.
- Will the solar increase the value of my home?
Yes! Several studies demonstrate that solar homes are worth more money and sell more quickly. See our blog post for more details: How Much Does Solar Increase the Value of Your Home?
- Will my property taxes go up because of solar?
The short answer is – it depends. Most municipalities will not increase your property tax values due to a solar installation, but it’s worth checking with your town (or city) hall to be sure. There is a list of municipalities in NH that have specifically opted-out of applying taxes to solar upgrades: http://www.nh.gov/oep/energy/saving-energy/documents/renewable-energy-exemptions.pdf.
- Will the system be noisy?
Power inverters are relatively quiet – emitting about as much noise as a refrigerator. They are generally installed in utility rooms or basements alongside existing mechanical systems, rather than in living spaces.
- Do I need to worry about solar panels in the snow?
Snow and ice are a reality of installing solar arrays in the Northeast and we design our systems to withstand the toughest weather we get. The reality is, after a snowstorm, your solar panels will be covered in snow. Don’t panic! Usually they ‘self-clear’ quite well on the next sunny day. On an annual basis, the amount of energy production loss due to snow is fairly minor. If you are determined to do something to keep your panels clear, we suggest you read this section about Solar and Winter from our “Why Go Solar?” guide.
- Will I see a difference in my lights or in how appliances run, like on a generator?
Solar electricity is identical to grid power, so you will never notice that the house is running on solar power. What you will see, of course, is a smaller electric bill!
- How much power will I be able to produce?
On most decent sites in Northern New England, each kilowatt watt of grid-tied solar will produce ~1,270 kWh/year of electricity. On our free solar evaluation, we will use a professional solar survey tool to assess if shade or off-axis issues will affect your system performance, and present an independently verifiable production element in your system proposal consistent with NREL’s PVWatts tool.
- What happens when the power goes out?
When the grid power goes down, the grid-tied solar electric system goes down, too. This is to prevent any accidental back-feeding of solar electricity to the grid which might endanger line-workers. However, a new generation of battery backup technology is available, providing clean backup power in event of a power outage.
- Can I go get rid of the utility company and go ‘off-grid’?
While the idea of cutting ties with the electric company may seem romantic, in reality, it is anything but practical except for very specific cases (generally when utility power is not available and prohibitively expensive to install). Read on for a bit more about Off-Grid Vs. Grid-Tied Solar
- What panels do you recommend?
We use a variety of top, well-respect solar panel manufacturers depending on the application. We usually carry three options, which we call “Good,” “Better,” and “Best.” Our “Better” option is a panel by electronics manufacturer LG. All reputable solar manufacturers offer a 25-year warranty on their panels, which are expected to live roughly twice that long.
- What inverter do you recommend?
Again, we choose among a variety of top manufacturers depending on the application. Currently the vast majority of systems we install use SolarEdge or Pika Energy inverter technology. All inverter companies offer at least a 10-year warranty, though the inverter is expected to last 25 years or longer.
Air Source Heat Pump FAQs
- Are heat pumps effective in New England temperatures?
ASHPs used to mainly be seen in the Mid-Atlantic or Southern states, but thanks to Mitsubishi Electric’s dramatic improvements in the low-temperature performance of their extensive line of heat pumps systems, they are being rapidly adopted in the Northeast. The latest generation of heat pumps can provide heating to temps as low as -17 Fahrenheit, making them quite capable of handling most of the coldest days and nights in New England.
- How do heat pumps work?
Air source heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air using a reverse refrigeration cycle. By taking heat from the outside air and moving it inside, rather than directly heating the indoor air, the heat pump can do its job up to 2-3x more efficiently.
- What heat pump do you recommend?
We know Mitsubishi Electric’s products inside and out and we are certain of their ability to reliably provide comfort through all of the highs and lows that New England throws their way. As a result of our expertise and experience installing their products, we are trusted Mitsubishi Elite Diamond Contractors and because of that, their heat pumps come with an industry-leading 12-year parts and compressor warranty on single-family, residential installations, and a 5-year parts and 7-year compressor warranty on multi-family and commercial installations.
Community Solar Farm FAQs
- What is a Community Solar Farm?
A community solar farm (or a CSF) is a solar array that is co-owned by more than one person or business.
- How does community solar “work”?
In Maine, community solar utilizes its net metering policy, which allows up 9 account holders within CMP or Emera Maine’s territory to co-own a solar array. Each so-called “Member” of the solar farm owns a portion of the array, and the power generated from it – both, in proportion to their original investment in its capital costs. Each portion is called a “share”. Each month, the utility will allocate the array’s electricity generation and will issue each Member a credit “payment” to their bill. In summer and high-generation months, the allocation will likely cover the bill, or exceed it. If so, the excess can be carried over and applied toward the next month’s balance, and the following one, up to 12 times (1 year of statements). Every kilowatt hour of solar electricity produced is applied against each Members’ bills.
- Why is community solar so great?
Community solar allows anyone to go solar, regardless of whether they own or rent a home, or have a good or bad site for a solar array. And those solar benefits move with you as long as you stay within your utility company’s territory. Furthermore, you can own something that will be useful for generations.
- Who can join a Community Solar Farm?
Anyone with a utility account can join and become a Member – including renters, condominium owners (who typically don’t own their roofs), those with roofs that are not solar-situated because of shading, poor roof quality, historic prohibitions, etc. In some cases, Members are joined by a common purpose – membership in a church, condo association, community-supported farming group, etc. In other cases, they are combined together by ReVision.
- What if I move or need to sell?
Membership shares are portable and transferable to any account within the same utility territory. Thus, if you move, you are free to reassign your shares to a new account – yours, your business’s, or someone else’s. If you move outside the utility territory, you are free to sell or transfer your shares. In addition, because arrays are physical assets that are owned in perpetuity, Members should plan for the long-term disposition and transfer of their shares. Strange as it sounds, your solar shares will likely outlive you!
- How are community solar projects created?
We are actively seeking host sites for future projects. Once identified, a potential site is screened for feasibility (adequate space including for setbacks and array spacing, non-northern exposure, open fields, good soils, preferably no mortgage, etc.). If a site meets our requirements, a project is designed for the site, and the host landowner and ReVision work together to develop the project. In some cases, we work with partner groups such as churches, environmental groups, CSA groups, etc., to identify potential Members. In other cases, we do this alone. Either way, once a project has 9 Members, ReVision helps the group form a Mutual Benefit Non-Profit Association (Association) to oversee the management of the project. This is a commonly used, non-taxable structure that typically allows for the management of co-owned assets (including for condominiums, road associations, and the like).
- Who owns the array? Who manages the array?
The members own the array. The Association owns nothing and serves solely as the structure needed to oversee the management the array, its Members, and their shares. The Association does this through elected offices, similar to any company – President, Treasurer, Secretary, etc.
- Who maintains the array?
Solar arrays need very little maintenance other than seasonal mowing. At the Association’s option, it may maintain the array on its own, or may hire us to do it.
- What are RECs?
A REC, or “renewable energy credit”, is a credit (or a value) granted to someone who owns a green power generator. They can be bought and sold and are in existence for the purpose of generating more green power in society. In the context of solar, every kilowatt hour of solar power generated is allocated a certain amount of RECs that can be kept (retired) or sold.
- Who’s in charge of managing RECs?
The association can decide to manage RECs on their own or hire ReVision to manage RECs for them. ReVision will charge a 2% brokerage fee on total REC revenue and a $200 annual operations fee. ReVision will sell RECs when the market is most favorable, either annually or quarterly, and will remit payment to the CSF within 30 days of a sale.
- What if I want to forego the annual income and retire my RECs?
You are free to do that, although, in a co-owned project like a solar farm, it takes some extra work on your part. Assuming the rest of the Members want to sell their RECs to offset annual costs, the easiest and cheapest way this is done is for the Association to sell the array’s total RECs, and then for you to buy back your share of RECs on your own.
- What kind of financing is possible?
Through our partner, Green Sky Finance, ReVision Energy offers low-cost financing options for all solar projects, including Membership shares, through our “Own Your Power” Loan Program. In less than 15 minutes (typically), you can apply online and receive a 12-year, unsecured loan at 2.99%. Go to: http://www.revisionenergy.com/at-home/solar-loans.
- How do I file for a tax credit?
Talk with your tax expert about filing IRS Form 5695, or https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i5695.pdf
- How many years do solar panels generate power?
Solar panels sold today don’t ever stop generating. While some of the wirings may need upgrading in future years, the panels remain useful for over 40 years and generations to come with a minimal reduction in output.
- What happens when the 30-year lease is up?
When the 30-year lease is up, the association and host can agree to extend the lease in 5-year increments. So long as the project is generating electricity — and it will be for 40 years — it will likely make the most economic sense to leave it in place rather than dismantle. To the extent the CSF is not interfering with other land uses, the lease will most likely be continued well after 30 years. Most projects will eventually be retired and sold for salvage value or scrap. The land will then be returned to its original condition. If the lease is not renewed, the members can decide whether to sell, recycle, donate to developing world projects, or move the array.
- Can I assign multiple CMP accounts to my CSF share?
For net energy billing purposes, one account = one share. If you’d like to offset multiple CMP accounts, you can, but each CMP account would be assigned one of the 9 shares.
- Can I access the array?
Access is arranged between the Host and the Association, and typically includes all necessary access to provide for installation, and operations and maintenance. Beyond that, the Host and Association are free to make whatever arrangements for additional access that they mutually want.
- Are solar farms taxed in Maine?
It depends on the community where one is located and in the vast majority of cases, they are not taxed. If a community chooses to tax a solar farm, the Members are responsible for the assessment. The Host/Landlord is not responsible for the array’s assessment but remains responsible for the site’s assessment.
- Where are there solar farms in Maine now?
There are eight community solar farms now in Maine, and many more in the works. The Sunnycroft Solar Farm became operational in October 2014. The Edgecomb Solar Farm became operational in June 2015, and the Maine Idyll Solar Farm in Freeport, and the Sky Ranch Solar Farm in Wayne became operational in early 2016. Crystal Springs Farm in Brunswick, Kimball Farm in Lovell, Morris Farm in Wiscasset, and Higgins Farm in Lisbon became operational by the end of 2016. We are actively seeking new sites all the time, and are developing projects now in over 25 communities.