Adams Street meeting to focus on solar energy

By 
Elizabeth Murray,  Special to the Reporter
Jul. 26, 2012

Solar roof in Jamaica Plain: Tobias Johnson's home gets plenty of sun exposure.Solar roof in Jamaica Plain: Tobias Johnson's home gets plenty of sun exposure.A meeting in Adams Corner next Tuesday will focus on helping residents and small businesses install solar panels on their own homes and buildings. The meeting will be held at the Adams Street Public Library on Aug. 1 at 6 p.m.

The city of Boston and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center have combined to form the Solarize Mass- Boston initiative, which will staged the event on Tuesday evening. The group is hosting meetings in various Boston neighborhoods throughout the summer to try to educate more people on the clean energy resource and hopefully double the amount of residential scale solar power installations in the city.

So far, roughly 100 residents and small businesses in Boston have converted to solar energy through the initiative, according to Jacob Glickel, the Chief of Staff in the City of Boston’s Office of Environmental and Energy Services.

Renewboston.org, the official website for the Mayor’s initiative, says that when the house’s solar power system generates more energy than the home can immediately use, the excess power flows back to the utility grid and the meter “literally spins backwards.” How much the house actually saves, however, is dependent on the size of the solar power system and amount electricity usage.

SolarCity customer Tobias Johnson of Jamaica Plain said he has been using solar power since Dec. 21, 2011. While his system produces at least 500 kilowatt hours per month, he only uses about 400 kilowatts. Since he paid more money up front to install the solar system, he is effectively paying nothing for energy each month, compared to his monthly $65-$70 energy bill before solar power.

“I moved about two years ago and I recognized at that time that the sun at the new house where I moved was simply unprecedented and all-day sun,” Johnson said. “I knew it was a great solar opportunity, but in addition. . . the fact that it’s a new property and the roof was new.”

Johnson said he builds this credit into the winter season. Even in the winter though, he said he still gets amazing amounts of solar power.

According to Glickel, under the Solarize Mass - Boston program, residents have a few options when financing solar energy. The first is if the resident pays for solar panels entirely up front, a four to six year payback period can be expected through a reduction in the resident’s electricity bill and in state incentives. If the resident decides to put minimal or no money down and leases the roof to a solar installer – SolarCity in this case – the resident must sign a contract with the company to purchase the power produced by the solar panels on the roof for 20 years.

If more residents decide to pay up front, the cost of this power will be lower. Through Solarize Mass - Boston currently, residents are paying as little as 11 cents per kilowatt of power through a SolarCity contract. Also, additional financing options are available that fall in the middle of these two options.

“All roofs and homes are different, so pricing may vary,” Glickel said.

The only downside to solar power, Glickel said, is that not all homes can have it installed. In order for solar energy to work, the house must have a significant amount of open roof space and a street location that receives good daytime sunlight. Glickel said it also helps if the roof does not need replacing, as this costs additional money. In general, if the solar panels are installed on a roof with all these characteristics, Glickel said there are not many drawbacks to solar power, if any. Solar panels can even help protect a roof from the elements.

“It’s not the best answer to getting more energy and being sustainable, but it’s one of the tools out there [that] people can use to reduce their costs,” Glickel said.

Though start-up costs may look a bit high to prospective solar users, Johnson said that it should not deter people from realizing the long-term advantages.

“I have been recommending it to pretty much everyone I talk to,” Johnson said. “I believe in the urban century. More people are living in cities now. Cities are the future, and if we’re going to tackle the climate change issues, we have to start looking at the distributed power systems. It makes for a cleaner, greener city.”

So far, meetings have been held in Jamaica Plain (July 11), Mattapan (July 17) and Roslindale (July 25). Glickel is expecting a good turnout for the Aug. 1 meeting in Dorchester and another meeting will be held in Hyde Park on Aug. 7 in the Hyde Park Municipal Building on River Street.

For more information about the workshops or to schedule a workshop in your area, please contact solar@renewboston.org.

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