Arlington surges for solar power

August 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Hundreds of Arlington residents are headed toward the largest savings possible through Solarize Massachusetts, a state program offering greater discounts for photovoltaic (PV) installations as more members of a community go solar.

Participants in the local Solarize Arlington effort are on track to install enough solar panels to produce 250 kilowatts collectively, according to state-approved contractor Solarflair, which would qualify each participant to pay the lowest prices offered: $3.47 per watt if purchasing the system and $0.055 per kilowatt hour if leasing it.

About 50 homeowners would have to install PV panels to reach the 250-kilowatt mark, said Solarflair owner Matt Arner. So far, more than 400 Arlington residents have asked for home assessments and at least half of these will most likely install panels, Arner said.

More leads come in every day, keeping Arner and his colleagues busy in the satellite office they opened three weeks ago in Arlington Heights.

“In Arlington there’s been a much bigger response. Our other towns probably got half the number of leads that Arlington did,” said Arner, who’s also working with Solarize Hopkinton and Solarize Mendon. “A lot of people had already installed solar before the program and there was already a little bit of awareness. So the timing of this program has been perfect.”

Buy a system and it will typically pay for itself within five years, leaving you to enjoy free energy for another 20, Arner said. Lease a system and you save a good deal on your energy bill each month, without the upfront cost of purchasing the panels.

Solar panel prices will never be lower than they are now and state rebates for solar energy may be gone by this time next year, Arner added.

To participate in the Solarize program, residents must apply by Sept. 30.

In the meantime, several Arlington residents who have already installed solar panels will open their homes to people curious about the technology.


Carl Elkin

As of early February, Elkin is the owner of a 14-panel, 3.5-kilowatt solar installation by Somerville-based SunBug Solar. The panels cover most of his roof and produce 150 percent of the energy he and his wife consume, said Elkin.

 “I recognize the serious threat of climate change and I want to be in a position to do something about it,” Elkin said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How much money do we really want to spend to stay on fossil fuel?’ There are better things we can do with that money, like spend it on our kids.”

The system will pay for itself within eight years and increase his home’s value, Elkin predicted.

Elkin and his wife, who also own a solar-powered hot water system, began monitoring energy use in their home before going solar and ended up replacing their old refrigerator and plugging their TV into a strip to avoid “vampire power” use.

But for Elkin, one of the greatest joys is watching his online energy meter run backwards as his home produces more energy than it consumes and returns the extra kilowatts to the grid.

“I want to make sure as many people use renewable power as possible and move society toward renewable power. Reducing carbon emissions has a direct impact on our lives and our children’s lives,” Elkin said. “I also want to help people save money.”


Shelly Dein

Dein’s 20-panel, 4.8 kilowatt Sunlight Solar installation, which went online last December, is one of the larger small-scale solar arrays around town.

Sitting on the roof of her two-family home, she said the panels produce more than enough power to cover all her needs and should pay for themselves within five years. Dein funnels the extra power into her tenants’ accounts, she said, which she estimates saves them $50/month on their electric bills.

“I really think it’s important that we reduce our dependence on fossil fuel. And it doesn’t feel like a financial hardship to follow my environmental instincts,” Dein said. 

Dein understands the hesitation people may feel before investing in solar panels, she said.

“For many people it’s a big decision because their houses are their biggest asset. They’ll probably want to kick the tires a little to understand what they’re getting into,” Dein said. 


John Weiss

Weiss’s 18-panel, 4.32-kilowatt system was installed on his roof about a month ago by national contractor SolarCity, which leases the devices to him.

The panels may save 25 percent on each month’s electric bill, said Weiss, a 20-year environmental consultant who has watched solar technology become a more popular option.

“I’ve seen the technologies mature and the cost continually come down,” Weiss said. “But although there are certainly a lot of panels going up in Massachusetts, it’s still a little bit of a novelty. I thought it might be kind of fun to be part of that first group showing it’s not only a good thing to do for the environment, but economically and financially, it also makes a lot of sense.”

Neighbors often ask for the story behind the shiny panels on his roof, which he loves talking about, Weiss said. He explains how demand for solar installations has increased in recent years, lowering the price, which in turn increases demand again. 

His wife thought the panels would be ugly, Weiss laughed, but today she doesn’t mind them.

“Around here, people see a wind turbine and say, ‘Wow.’ They can’t take their eyes off it. But out in the mountain passes in California, they have arrays of them covering hundreds of acres and they’re just part of the landscape,” Weiss said. “My prediction is that over time, no one will give it a second glance when they see solar panels on a roof.”

Comments are closed.