Monday, July 25, 2016

Myths About Solar Power And The Adirondacks

us solar pv instalationsSolarize Tri-Lakes is a group of volunteers raising awareness about the benefits of installing solar or photovoltaic electricity (PV).

With solar technology changing so rapidly, it can be difficult to tell the difference between truth and common misconceptions. Here is our attempt to debunk some of these myths.

MYTH: New York doesn’t get enough sun for solar.

FACT: Solar irradiation levels vary across the US, but every state receives enough sunlight to make solar a good investment. Consider that Germany leads the world in residential solar – six times the installed capacity of the U.S. – with a solar resource roughly equivalent to that of Alaska. Solar can work in almost any climate, as long as panels are properly installed in an un-shaded location and at the proper tilt and orientation, and are actually more efficient at cooler temperatures than hot ones.

MYTH: The North Country gets too much snow for solar.

FACT: Solar panels will not produce electricity while covered with snow, however snow days will be factored into the size of your system. A large percentage of a North Country home’s annual solar production happens during the longer, sunnier days of spring, summer and fall. Since snow slides off easily once the sun is shining, it is not necessary to climb on your roof to clear your panels after a snowfall.

MYTH: Solar panels will be a good backup if the power goes out.

FACT: Grid-tied solar tends to be the most convenient for homeowners, and is the only form eligible for NYSERDA rebates. During a power outage, electricity produced from a grid-tied solar system automatically shuts off to protect the safety of workers on the transmission lines. Homeowners may choose to install batteries to store power for use during outages, however battery banks add significant costs, require storage space and maintenance, and are best suited for use in remote, “off-grid” applications.

MYTH: Solar can only be installed on south facing roofs.

FACT: South is the best exposure for photovoltaic systems, and roofs are convenient for mounting since there is no cost to build a structure and electric service is nearby. However, photovoltaic systems may also be installed on roofs with east/west exposure, or on the ground. Ground mount systems are relatively compact and can be installed on any flat, un-shaded area within the same property of the house or business. Ground mount racking and ditching for electric wires require additional cost.

MYTH: Solar panels will make my roof leak.

FACT: Individual solar panels are mounted to aluminum racks, not directly to a roof. Depending on the type of roof, different racking is utilized, but all are designed to attach to the roof securely and prevent leaking. Installers will assess a roof for structural integrity (solar panels and mounting equipment weigh approximately 3 lbs/ square foot) and may refuse to mount an array on a roof needing replacement. Any roof repair required to install a solar array is eligible for both federal and state renewable energy tax credits.

MYTH: A home or business owner needs to know a lot about electricity to install solar panels.

FACT: One of the biggest advantages of solar, and why it is growing rapidly around the world, is that it is simple, reliable, and maintenance free if installed properly. Solar panels and inverters have standard 25-year warranties, and most installers provide a minimum 5-year “sky to earth” installation warranty. Problems are typically found during the first month after installation and corrected while under warranty.

MYTH: Solar is only for environmentalists.

FACT: Solar is for everyone! Solar has environmental benefits, but it can also help homeowners and businesses save money and ensure energy security. The US military is adopting solar power at home and abroad: solar arrays and mobile solar kits help keep soldiers safe in areas where transporting fuel to remote locations can be both costly and dangerous. Iconic American brands are among the biggest adopters of commercial solar: Walmart, Costco, Toys R Us, and Crayola are all installing solar and enjoying the benefits of renewable electricity.

MYTH: Solar system cost is based on a home’s size.

FACT: Solar systems are custom designed with particular attention paid to the home’s roof orientation and slope, as well as any shading from trees or other structures. State discounts are available for up to 110% of the occupant’s annual usage. Each home is carefully assessed to maximize system production based on the most recent electric bill.

price history of silicon pv cellsMYTH: Solar is too expensive, only rich people can afford the upfront costs of investing in solar.

FACT: The price of solar technology has fallen steeply in the past several years, and solar technology has never been as affordable as it is right now. Most homeowners choosing solar are middle-income families looking for ways to help keep household costs down. New York State offers an incentive to everyone installing solar at $.40 /watt installed. Beginning this year, the state has also introduced a program that raises the incentive for low and moderate-income homeowners to $.80 /watt (Household with incomes less than 80% of the median county income are considered eligible for this incentive). Federal and state tax credits may further reduce cost by as much as 55% depending on how much tax is owed by the homeowner. Solar specific “bridge loans” help cover costs until tax credits are received and, coupled with Green Jobs/Green NY low-interest financing, help spread the upfront cost of solar over several years. On average, solar panels return two to four times their cost in saved electricity bills and pay for themselves completely in 7 to 15 years, while continuing to produce energy for 25 years or more. Solar leasing is another alternative to ownership, and carries no upfront costs.

MYTH: Discounts are only available for residential solar.

FACT: Businesses are offered similar incentives to adopt solar as homeowners making solar a cost-effective investment and demonstrating a business’s commitment to clean, renewable energy. New York State offers the same $.40 /watt installed incentive for commercial solar as residential. The 30% federal tax credit is available to commercial as well as residential. New York State, instead of the 25% NYS residential tax credit, offers MACRS Depreciation for businesses investing in solar equipment, which averages 38% over 5 – 6 years.

MYTH: Installing solar panels will increase property taxes.

FACT: In New York State, solar installations are not included in property tax assessments. Local governments may choose to opt out of this exemption, however none of the communities in the greater Tri-Lakes have chosen to tax solar arrays. From an investment perspective, this means that installing solar panels could increase the resale value of your house without increasing property taxes.

MYTH: With solar I won’t receive an electric bill.

FACT: Most modern solar systems are grid-tied which means they are connected to the electrical grid. A PV system generates power when the sun is shining and excess flows back into the grid through a process called “net metering” – solar production spins your meter backwards and you build credits against your electric bill that are used at night or on overcast days. You will continue to receive a monthly bill from your utility company. The amount owed to the utility will vary from month to month depending on your credit balance and usage. Regardless of how much electricity you generate and use, you will still be charged the basic service charge each month (roughly $17 for National Grid customers).

MYTH: Filing all the paperwork to get the incentives is a hassle.

FACT: Reputable installers make it easy to buy solar. They file all necessary paperwork to receive NYSERDA rebates, negotiate local government zoning & permitting requirements, and provide financing information to customers. Installers will also provide forms for home or business owners to file for federal and state tax credits, but it is the individual’s responsibility to consult with their tax advisor for advice on whether they are eligible for tax credits.

MYTH: Only homeowners with National Grid or NYSEG can sign up with Solarize Tri-Lakes.

FACT: Solarize Tri-Lakes welcomes sign-ups from community members throughout the northern Adirondacks, including residents of Tupper Lake and Lake Placid who are customers of municipal electric companies. While not required by NYS to provide interconnection to net-metered solar systems, both municipalities have and will continue to do so. Municipal customers are eligible for the same state and federal incentives as other residents; however payback times will be longer due to the low price currently paid for electricity.

MYTH: There aren’t local solar installers.

FACT: There are a number of long-standing solar companies with excellent reputations throughout the North Country, as well as newer companies that have responded to the North Country’s interest in clean energy. Solarize Tri-Lakes has contracted with an installer through a transparent and fair vetting process to respond to inquiries quickly, and to guarantee a low price per watt for solar. To receive a free, no obligation solar site assessment of your home or business sign up here, or call (518) 891-5212.

Nancy Bernstein is Coordinator of the Solarize Tri-Lakes campaign. Solarize campaigns are short term, local efforts that bring together groups of potential solar customers through outreach and education. Based in Vermontville NY, Solarize Tri-Lakes is currently running it’s second year campaign promoting solar energy throughout the northern Adirondacks. For more information or to sign up for a free site assessment, visit their website.

Charts of annual solar installations in U.S. and price history of solar PV cells provided.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

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