The U.S. government just extended the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Great! But wait, what is the ITC and why should I care about this news? Well, the ITC extension means there’s money on the table for homeowners looking to go solar. How much you ask?
The ITC allows you to claim up to 30% of the price you pay to install solar panels, which significantly reduces the cost of going solar. That’s $8,000-10,000 in savings for most households. This is a big opportunity for folks looking to go solar. If you’re exploring whether solar is a good fit for your home, ask your tax professional if the ITC is a good fit for your financial situation. It’s worth checking out.
So, we know the ITC is a benefit to individual households across Vermont and nationwide, but what does this mean for the bigger picture? It gets even better.
Competitive and Stable Energy Source
Solar isn’t the new kid on the block – we’ve been around for a while – but the solar industry is seeing unprecedented affordability and accessibility.
According to a recent Forbes article: “The U.S. solar industry has reached a degree of maturity, with low panel prices, improving energy yields, falling installation costs and the availability of low-cost financing[…]making solar increasingly competitive with fossil fuel-based power generation sources.”
The beauty of solar is that it is a technology. We don’t rely on digging, fracking or burning of dirty, finite fossil fuels to make energy. Our resource isn’t buried underground – it pours from the sky. Every. Single. Day. A big hurdle was developing and improving a technology that could harness our most powerful resource.
“Solar isn’t just a promising technology. It’s a real, deployable tool and platform for a next-generation electricity grid. The regulations and innovations that come together in the second half of this decade will set the stage for what the future of electricity in the U.S. looks like,” said MJ Shiao, Green Tech Media’s director of Solar Research.
Energy consultant Ron Binz says: “[Renewables] are becoming cheaper and cheaper and will eventually become the cheapest resource that we can use.”
“By 2021, the amount of carbon offset by U.S. solar will match the emissions of 27 typical coal power plants or 20 million passenger vehicles.” – SEIA.org
Wow. This is progress. When you read stories, like this NY Times piece, that cite figures like “The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day” it’s easy to feel powerless and completely overwhelmed. But this solar “rooftop revolution” is very real and growing rapidly. Will your home be part of the progress?
SEIA.org reports that “by 2020, the industry will deploy more than 20 GW of solar electricity annually – more than double what it is today.” That’s enough capacity to power more than 20 million U.S. homes.
“The extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credits (ITC) for homeowners and businesses will lead sustained growth in the U.S. Solar Industry. By 2020, the industry will employ more than 420,000 workers – more than double what it is today.” – SEIA.org
Job growth is always good news – but job growth in the clean energy sector responsible for deploying safe, clean, renewable energy nationwide? That’s great news, and it’s picking up steam on Wall Street.
According to a recent Washington Post article: “The financing of renewable-energy projects has become a mainstream business for Wall Street. The early-stage investments from Silicon Valley for clean energy were small potatoes compared to the massive investments Wall Street is making. It truly is a global business,” said Dan Reicher, a former Energy Department assistant secretary who is now executive director of Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance.
“The ITC extension will spur an estimated $40 billion in additional investment in the U.S. economy by 2020.” – SEIA.org
Think solar might be a good fit for you?
Curious about your options? We’re here to help.
By Frank Farnsworth
I was raised in rural upstate New York and saw some of the problems that come with fracking. As a result, I have a great appreciation for alternative, clean, renewable power, like solar power.
My family and I all agree that solar is an important part of a clean energy future. We agreed that an unused portion of our property would be a great location for a Community Solar Array (CSA). We hope to help the environment, reduce our own carbon footprint and help others in our community, who may not be able to put solar panels on their property, do the same.
Having worked with SunCommon to develop a site plan while discussing it with my neighbors, I’m excited about the possibilities. Currently, the site is inaccessible and not suitable for development or farming. I go out twice a year and brush hog it, but now SunCommon will take care of that.
An important selling point for this installation is that there is no cement and minimal disruption to the land. The solar panels stand on posts driven into the soil. When the array has served its purpose, posts are simply pulled out and the field is right back to its original state.
In the greater scheme of things, I think of the Community Solar Array as our contribution to community in the environmental and ecological context of the word. Community is defined as “a group of interdependent plants and animals inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other through food and other relationships.” Rather than taking from our environment, solar energy innovation can better connect us with our natural world. It is about fostering possibilities and a brighter future. It is about contributing to community, in every sense of the word.
In Praise of Community Solar
by Dan D’Ambrosio, Free Press Staff Writer
WATERBURY –Every Monday morning, the employees of SunCommon cram into a meeting area in the open offices of the solar company’s headquarters here and get fired up for the week.
The meeting begins with personal reflections, during which every employee — all 62 of them — shares something from their personal lives. The subjects run the gamut: trips to New York City, sledding at 30 mph according to an on-board iPhone, muzzle-loader deer hunting. Staffers also share the heavy burdens of lives.
“There’s stuff going on in their lives, and so you heard some people dealing with cancer in their families; other people are having children,” said Duane Peterson, co-president of SunCommon. “It’s important for some to share what’s going on in their lives, either why they’re so up or might be down and need support. We work closely together, so understanding what’s going on in someone’s head can be helpful.”
After the personal reflections, the meeting moves on to a discussion of financials and where the company stands in terms of upcoming solar installations and sales leads. At one recent meeting this month, there also was a presentation about SunCommon’s performance as a Certified BCorps — the company is doing well in its commitment to pursue goals in addition to profit — and an introduction to a new method for a single log-in to SunCommon’s computer system.
In addition to being a Certified BCorps, a designation created by the nonprofit B Lab, SunCommon also is chartered as a benefit corporation under Vermont law.
Launched in 2012 by Peterson, 58, Ben & Jerry’s former “chief of stuff,” and James Moore, 37, former program director for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s clean energy program, SunCommon started the year with about 40 employees. The company, located at The Energy Mill on Waterbury-Stowe Road, has about a dozen openings now, which when filled would push the staff over 70.
SunCommon recently completed its 1,000th solar installation — at a home in Barre — and already is profitable, Peterson said.
“Our goal is to grow profitably, that’s what we’re looking to do for the strength of the business,” Moore said. “We want to be here for the long haul and make sure we have a great staff. A strong balance sheet is part of that.”
Peterson said the company will generate about $18 million in revenue this year.
A supportive environment
Peterson and Moore met through VPIRG, where Peterson was the longtime president of the Board of Directors. They decided to start SunCommon together. The pair serve as co-presidents, with each owning about one-third of the company. The remaining third is owned by investors including both Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the Vermont Community Foundation and FreshTracks Capital in Shelburne.
“When we started this gambit together, we did a division of labor where Duane focuses on the marketing end of things, our investor relations and all things kind of internal, administrative, legal and whatnot, and I focus on the solar, sales, customer service, design, engineering and government relations,” Moore said. “We both think we have the better half, so it’s perfect.”
To continue reading “SunCommon ramps up solar power in Vermont”, please visit the Burlington Free Press story here.
Letter to the Editor: A new working landscape in Vermont
Vermonters soak up solar energy
I was excited to read “Smaller renewable power projects up 58 percent in VT” (Nov. 17). The cost of solar has come down so far, and Vermont’s thriving solar industry has gotten so efficient, that thousands of Vermont homeowners now actually save money on their utility bills by going solar.
I got my solar system with no upfront cost and a low monthly payment and love it. I encourage others to look into saving money by doing the right thing as well. Good news for a change!
To continue reading more Letter to the Editors, click here.
Letter to the Editor: Sitting pretty in sun at age 95
“How do Vermonters heat their homes?” (Dec. 18) gave short shrift to the 186 percent increase in the use of solar energy to keep our homes warm and comfy. I was like all Vermonters who bristle at heating our homes with dirty, expensive fuel oil or propane.
So I turned to clean solar energy to heat my home in the winter and get guilt-free air conditioning in the summer. I’ll save thousands of dollars every year by not burning all that propane — and that’s with the current drop in fuel prices.
The next time they spike again, I’ll be sitting even prettier. As a 95-year-old on a fixed income, this is a great help.
Solar heating is here in Vermont in a big way.
In the Spring of 2012, Shannon and Melissa Haggett saw the story of SunCommon launching on WCAX and were intrigued by the idea of going solar with no upfront cost. Shannon hopped onto his computer, went to our website, and clicked on the get started tab that night. This was before SunCommon was in Addison County but by signing up he helped bring us there first and now his system is up and running! Shannon, Melissa, and their two children live in Vergennes and Shannon is chair of the local Planning Commission. We’re happy that Shannon and Melissa were one of the first families we helped go solar in Addison County, and here’s what they have to say about it.
What had kept you from going solar before?
For me, it was really the cost and the lack of personal expertise that kept me from going solar before. I had casually looked into going solar, but I wasn’t sure what to do – how big a system would I need? Would I need to “be off the grid” and just use what I produced? Would I need to warehouse a bunch of batteries to store the energy? How do I hook up an inverter? Things like that…. SunCommon not only resolved the barrier of initial cost of the system through their lease arrangement, they walked me through how the process would work and made it really easy.
What are you looking forward to about having solar?
We’re looking forward to not only reducing and possibly eliminating our electricity bill permanently, we’re excited that we’re doing it in a way that is environmentally friendly. Additionally, having the system here means that we’re less reliant on energy that is generated elsewhere – be it hydro-electric power from Canada or from fossil fuels that came from another part of the world. That idea of self-sufficiency resonates with us and just seems sensible.
How has going solar changed your living habits?
I don’t know if it’s really changed our living habits, but we’re certainly much more aware of the amount of energy we consume and generate! In the past, we’d get the electric bill and we’d just pay it. We didn’t really pay attention to our usage levels and patterns – now we know. Now, I can tell you how much we’re generating on a daily basis. Sunpower, the manufacturer of the panels we have on our home has a website that can monitor our production and even a Smartphone app where I can see what’s happening with the system from pretty much anywhere! It’s really neat to see. We were even generating low levels of power during some snow storms in February and March!
What is the most important power device that your panel will be charging?
That’s a good question. I think more than anything its charging our excitement that this can be done on a very small level by just about everyone. I recognize that me going solar is just a drop in the bucket in terms of the environment, power usage, reliance on foreign energy, but if enough people join in with their small steps too – then we can say that we’ve made a difference!
We’re big fans of SunCommon and how they’ve made going solar so easy for us. We look forward to many years of working together!
Don Mayer has been the CEO and Top Dog at Small Dog Electronics since he founded it in 1995. Don’s been involved in the start-up of five different companies in fields as varied as computer software and wind energy, and has been a respected Vermont business leader through it all. He’s served as Chair of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and continues to serve as a member of the Boards of Vermont Health Care For All and Common Cause Vermont, a government transparency advocacy group. The guy keeps himself busy. Don and his wife, Grace, live on Prickly Mountain in Warren.
Why are you interested in solar?
I have a life-long interest in renewable energy. We had a small wind turbine here in the 70’s with the first in Vermont net-metering. Photovoltaics had always been out of reach for us financially. The opportunity from SunCommon gave us the opportunity to install solar electric generating capacity right on my southern facing roof. We are reducing our carbon footprint and taking advantage of clean and renewable energy.
Your business added solar a few years ago. What kept you from going solar on your home until now?
It was a matter of financing in both cases. When I discovered that it was financially feasible for my business, I was encouraged to seek a solution for my home as well.
Why did you pick SunCommon?
I picked SunCommon because of the strong recommendation of my VP of IT, Rebecca Kraemer, who was SunCommon’s first customer. It didn’t hurt that I knew some of the people involved in the company. And I knew it was a local company, which also appealed to me.
What advice would you give to future solar homeowners?
Well the first bit of advice, if you are just building, is to give yourself plenty of southern facing roof! If you are concerned about global warming and about the depletion of our natural carbon resources, adding solar electric to your home, not only is financially feasible right now, but it is the right thing to do. SunCommon makes it easy, too, with soup to nuts design, installation and support. It is always an added benefit that a solar electric system will increase the value of your home, too!
What are you most excited about?
I am excited about finally, after 35 years, being able to use my southern facing roof to take advantage of the free and clean power from the sun! I knew that orientation would come in handy :)
What’s your favorite thing to power with your new solar?
That has to be my experimental electric motorcycle with sidecar! Come see the solar powered motorcycle in the Warren 4th of July parade this summer!
Kimberly Ead, her husband Derek, and their daughter Sydney are relatively new members of the Bolton Community. Derek and Kim are truly active people with a climbing wall inside and kayaks in the shed. Kim is especially in tune with her yoga practice though and is a regular at Evolution Yoga in Burlington. Kim and Derek are the first homeowners in Bolton, VT to go solar. SunCommon is thrilled to have helped them with this project and we thought you’d enjoy reading a note from Kim connecting her Sun Salutations with her Solar Panels.
“If you want to change the world you must change yourself first,” is what I repeated as I layed in Savasana (the sleepy time after my yoga class). In this class we did sun salutations and we were told to shine like the sun, energize, and stretch. This was the day I told my 2 year old daughter, (doing downward dog in the picture to the right!) “the man walking on our roof is bringing the sunshine to our home.” We got our solar panels. Sun Common brought the sunshine and the energy.
I heard about SunCommon at a dinner party where I met an amazing woman who worked for the company. I asked her,”Can I go Solar?” She answered, “maybe”. I researched the website and was drawn in by the people and the mission. I trusted what they were telling me. I called and asked more questions and after a short time the answer was a big, fat, and sunny, “YES, you can go solar!”
I was motivated to go solar because I was spending money on fossil fuels and stripping the Earth of its natural resources. This is not the change I want to see in this world. Finding sustainable energy sources is important and if I can cut my consumption just a little bit I feel like I am helping the planet.
I didn’t think I could afford to go solar. The panels and maintenance are expensive and I do not understand the technology enough to do it myself. The deciding factor was the fact that SunCommon has made it possible for anyone to go solar. They have figured out how to cover the costs using tax rebates and working with the power companies. Hopefully next summer, I will get money back because thanks to net metering, I am able to share my power with others. Sharing power is a motivator in life, in yoga, and on my roof.
Advice I would give to future homeowners is to contact SunCommon and see if your home qualifies for solar panels.
I am most excited to see my electricity meter run backwards, telling me I am making more power than I am using. I am excited to show my daughter what the sun can do.
I have been doing yoga for about ten years and now when I do yoga and sun salutations I thank the sun for opening my heart and my mind. My solar panels will give me peace of mind and also power my pellet stoves which will warm my home all winter.
Let the sun shine in.
Bill and Judy built their home in Williston 37 years ago and, knowing that installing solar panels was both the environmentally responsible and the economical thing to do, they positioned their home with one side of the roof facing south. They had high hopes for going solar, but because of the cost and the technology they weren’t able to manifest it at that time, or for the next few decades. Finally, in 2012, they have installed their beautiful new solar system and have shared their story of going solar!
How did you hear about SunCommon?
On a local TV news report one evening in early 2012. The report was about a company called SunCommon that was introducing a new way of making solar installations affordable for nearly every homeowner (that had a south facing roof) by leasing the panels and electronics and by tying the panels directly into the power grid. I called my wife into the room and asked her what she thought. We were both a little suspicious at first until we investigated it further…it was for real!
Unfortunately, the cost was always somewhat prohibitive and the thought of having banks of batteries and electronics in our basement that required maintenance and frequent replacement kept us from following through with our original plan. Also, back then, the power companies were not all that accepting of customer generated power, so batteries were nearly the only option.
What was the ultimate deciding factor in making the jump to solar?
When we heard that there was a way to lease the panels, and with the new power grid technologies (not to mention power companies being more accepting of customer generated power) it had become all so much simpler. The cost, of course, was much less than it would have been if we had purchased them outright. Also, we have always been somewhat environmentally conscious and thought going solar would be a great way to reduce our carbon footprint. We have always heated primarily with wood and have a large vegetable garden, so going solar made a lot of sense to us..
What advice would you give to future solar homeowners?
The whole SunCommon process was virtually painless. All the government and legal paperwork was handled by SunCommon and required only our signature. Their subcontractors were proficient and had the panels and electronics up in no time. It’s a good feeling to know that the panels on your roof are helping the environment as well as reducing your electric bill.
What are you most excited about?!
The plans we had 37 years ago have finally come to fruition thanks to SunCommon. It’s great to see those kilowatts adding up on the monitoring electronics.
What is the most important power device your panels will be charging?
Being members of an older generation, we do not have a lot of electronics that require charging such a smartphones, etc. We do have a laptop, but that is kept plugged in most of the time with the battery removed…I know…we should have gotten a desktop :-) We do hope some day to purchase a plug-in hybrid or all electric vehicle. We imagine the panels would supply a large portion of the electricity the car would require.