Solarize Connecticut meeting attracts residents

Close to three dozen people gathered at town hall on Oct. 3 to learn about the Solarize Connecticut program that Redding, Easton and Trumbull are jointly participating in.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Redding,” said First Selectman Natalie Ketcham.

The town was “so fortunate,” she said, to have Susanne Krivit, the town’s Clean Energy Task Force chair — a solar participant herself — who banded together with Easton and Trumbull representatives to do the research and request for proposal process to bring the town to its current status.

Ms. Ketcham said she herself scheduled an appointment for a solar evaluation of her home, saying that solar power is “good for the town, good for the individual and good for you.”

Ms. Krivit has had solar panels at her home since 2009.

“I took advantage of the first program the state offered, and have been very happy with the results,” said Ms. Krivit. “I had limited options; you have much better options today.”

Solarize Connecticut is offered by the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), a quasi-public agency, in partnership with SmartPower, a private company that specializes in marketing for nonprofits. The program leverages group discounts through a preselected installer to reduce the cost of solar installation. Sunlight Solar Energy Inc. of New Haven is the installer selected by the three communities.

Residents who want to participate in the program must sign a contract by Feb. 9, 2014.

Brendan Smith, a system designer for Sunlight Solar, was the primary speaker, supported by Ms. Krivit and Erin O’Sullivan of SmartPower.

Mr. Smith explained how the solar panels work, the leasing and purchase options available and the tax credits for 30% of system costs — emphasizing that to obtain a credit for 2013, the system has to be operational, not just signed for or installed, by Dec. 31.

The cost after tax credit and state subsidies averages about $11,000, with a payback achieved in six to eight years, and the life span of the system is 30 to 40 years.

He said that solar panels help homeowners “save on electric bills and insulate yourself from future rate increases, giving some energy independence; the more electricity generated on-site, the lower your electric bill.” Additionally, “solar power is good for the environment and increases resale value.”

Mr. Smith explained how it is determined which homes are good candidates for panels.

“Shading is most important; if your roof gets a lot of shade, forget it,” said Mr. Smith.

Other factors include the pitch of the roof, orientation — “Facing south is best, although if you have a sunny spot, you can use east and west facing” — and few or no obstructions such as vents, skylights, chimneys. He also said that some open properties are good candidates for ground level, rather than rooftop, panels.

A phone call or online query to Sunlight Solar starts the evaluation process; representatives can generally tell whether a home is a probable candidate by looking at a satellite view. If that initial assessment is positive, a representative will do an on-site assessment and prepare a proposal for qualified homes at no cost.

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, one member of the public asked if the condition of the roof matters.

Mr. Smith said that it is necessary for the roof to be in good shape before installation.

Another person asked how the power generated can be used.

The power generated is available for anything in the house, but a separate system is also available for hot water, said Mr. Smith.

The home is connected to the grid, and power that is generated above what is needed at the moment is pushed back into the grid, said Mr. Smith.

Connecticut Light & Power switches the meter to one that measures what goes in and out; homeowners get credit for that power and every March, if there is a surplus, there is a refund, he said.

But since CL&P buys back at the wholesale price, it is about two-thirds of the retail price the homeowner pays CL&P, thus “it doesn’t pay to oversize your system,” he said. Also, the utility companies are required by state law to participate in these programs; it is not an option for them.

Since the panels are tied to the grid, there is no storage of power on site, said Mr. Smith. He also said it is not currently cost-effective to do battery backup, so if power goes out, there is no stored power.

“A generator is your best bet,” he said.

Though solar panel systems are not subject to property tax, the system does require an increase in homeowner insurance costs, generally $50 to $100 per year, said Mr. Smith.

Heavy snow does not present a danger to the panels, he said, and the fact that they are dark and sun-facing generally results in quick melting.

The Sunlight Solar installation is “turnkey”; the company handles everything from getting the permits to installation and arranging required inspections. Installation also includes a 10-year labor warranty, said Mr. Smith.

While the installation part of the process can take from one to four days, depending on size and complexity, the entire process from initial evaluation to power on can take one to two months. For this reason, Mr. Smith urged those wishing to get a tax credit for 2013 to sign up by mid-October.

The Sun Solar system also has an app that can be used by homeowners to see how much solar power their home is generating every day, even every hour.

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