Montpelier Times Argus: Company makes solar accessible

WATERBURY — Renewable energy for the cost of an electric bill?

Vermont leads the nation per capita in workers employed in the solar industry, a sign of the state’s progress toward a goal of receiving 90 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2050. But despite the proliferation of solar panels on rooftops and in fields across the state, for many property owners, the initial investment can represent an insurmountable financial hurdle. But in Waterbury, SunCommon is offering property owners a chance to install solar electricity and solar heating systems with no upfront cost.Instead, customers pay a monthly bill, much like a mortgage, but typically an amount that is comparable to a monthly electric bill. This approach aligns with the way homeowners think about the way they pay for heat or electricity, said Jessica Edgerly Walsh, organizing manager for SunCommon.

“We’re used to paying a monthly bill for our electricity and in some cases our heat,” Walsh said. “That’s how we think about power. Nobody thinks about spending $20,000 for their fuel source.”

So, in addition to coming to a customer’s home to discuss solar panel placement and the construction necessary to install them, SunCommon will also connect the customer with a local lender to arrange financing. Local lenders include the Vermont State Employees Credit Union, New England Federal Credit Union and Heritage Family Credit Union.

This model is apparently working well for SunCommon, which recently completed its 900th installation during its two-year existence. While based out of Waterbury, the company performs installations in Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille and Washington counties, and last week expanded its work to reach customers in Orange and Windsor counties as well.

In May, SunCommon installed a 40-panel solar system at the Brookfield home of Allen Wilder, who took advantage of the no-money-up-front financing to make the project a reality.

“It makes it so you don’t have to put a penny out and you’re paying it back as if you’re paying an electric bill,” said Wilder, whose home is now generating so much electricity that he sells it back to Green Mountain Power at 6 cents a kilowatt hour.

Wilder applauded the way the project benefits the local economy, from working with a home-grown company to borrowing from a local vendor.

“Here’s a company that is helping the local economy. That’s one of the reasons I picked them, because the money stays in state,” Wilder said. “It’s great for them, it’s great for the guy buying the solar and it’s great for the local credit agency.”

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