How to Switch to Renewable, Sustainable Energy in Connecticut - NBC Connecticut
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How to Switch to Renewable, Sustainable Energy in Connecticut

The first step in the transition to sustainable energy sources is embracing energy efficiency

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    Courtesy of Clean Energy Collective
    This 2015 photo shows a solar panel array in Uxbridge, Massachusetts owned by Clean Energy Collective. Clean Energy Collective operates the Bloomfield shared solar project in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

    Here's how Connecticut residents can stop relying on fossil fuels to power their homes and switch to sustainable energy sources.

    The First Step: Energy Efficiency
    The first way to move away from fossil fuels is to power your home more efficiently, said Martha Klein, a former Sierra Club Chapter Chair in Connecticut who now leads the Beyond Gas campaign. This could mean putting in energy-efficient light bulbs like LEDs and installing up-to-date Energy Star-rated appliances. You can also make sure your home is properly insulated so that you’re not using excessive energy to heat your home. Klein also advises homeowners to look at the Energized CT website, which advertises home efficiency audits for $150 or less, depending on your income. 

    “The best power, the cheapest power and the power which doesn’t cause any pollution is the power we never use,” Klein said.

    Once you’ve lowered your energy demand, you can consider relying on solar energy instead of fossil fuels.

    The Second Step: Switching to Solar
    Connecticut Sierra Club Executive Committee member Arthur Helmus described several ways people can put solar on their roofs. Helmus is also a senior projects manager at Smart Roofs Solar, a solar developer for Connecticut-based businesses.

    Through the first two methods, homeowners own the solar panel systems, while in the other two methods, a third party owns panels.

    Solar: Paying Upfront
    If a homeowner is willing to pay upfront, a solar panel array can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 depending on the number of panels and the roof’s size and sunlight exposure.

    Helmus said that despite the expense, this option offers the best return on investment in the long-term.

    You can also finance your system by taking out a loan and paying it back over a certain period, at the end of which you would own the panels. 

    Whether you’ve paid for your panels upfront or you’re financing them, Hemus said you can still take advantage of a 30 percent federal investment tax credit. That credit will drop to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021.  

    Solar: Leasing
    If homeowners don't want the responsibility of maintaining and insuring panels but they’d still like to install a system on their roof, lease panels from a third-party solar developer. At the end of the leasing period -- typically between 15 and 25 years -- the homeowner would own the system outright.

    “Under a leased system, a third party called the developer, would buy, install, own, maintain and ensure the system for a lease term,” Helmus said. “The homeowner would then be entitled to all of the electricity that the solar array generates. Like a car lease, you pay a flat fee during the period of the lease.” 

    Although Helmus could not estimate how much the flat fee would be, he said the cost varies based on the desired system’s size and the electricity rate. The leasing option has higher savings than the next option, the power purchase agreement. 

    Connecticut Green Bank and solar developer PosiGen’s Solar For All program offers moderate- to low-income households a 20-year lease on solar panels and an energy efficient installation.

    “Typically, homeowners need a credit score of 650 to qualify for most solar leases on the market,” Emily Basham, a senior associate at Connecticut Green Bank, said. “However, the Solar for All program does not have this barrier, as it does not require a minimum credit score.”

    Solar: The Power Purchase Agreement
    “The power purchase agreement is very similar to a lease where a third party buys, owns, installs, maintains and insures the system for the PPA period, which is typically between 15 and 20 years,” Helmus said. “Instead of getting all the electricity for free, the homeowner agrees to buy the electricity that’s generated by the solar panels at a rate that is less than the utility company would charge.” 

    So instead of paying to lease the solar panels, you’re only paying for the energy produced by the panels.

    At the end of the PPA period, Helmus said the homeowner will have the option to extend the agreement, to buy the system or have the system take off their roof at no charge. 

    Through this method of installing panels, however, residents can not take advantage of the investment tax credit or any incentives offered by the state.

    State Incentives for Solar
    Connecticut Green Bank offers two state incentives under its Residential Solar Investment Program to ease the cost of going solar for those who own homes serviced by Eversource or the United Illuminating Company. Homeowners who plan to purchase, lease or sign PPAs can take advantage of the incentives.

    Under the Expected Performance-Based Buydown incentive, for a panel system with a size of 10 kilowatts or less, an incentive of $0.463 per Watt will be paid directly to the contractor, according to the website. For systems with a size between 10 to 20 kilowatts, the contractor will receive an incentive of $0.40 per Watt. 

    For comparison, Basham, a senior associate at Connecticut Green Bank, wrote via email that the current average solar PV system size for Connecticut homes is about 7.6 to 9 kW. Basham added that most homes only need a system size of 20 kW or less.

    Performance-Based Incentive is specifically for people who are leasing their panels or have entered into a power purchase agreement. For systems up to 20 kW, the third-party system owner will receive $0.035 per kilowatt-hour for six years. The incentive is based on how much energy the solar panels produce in their first six years after being installed and is intended to decrease the homeowner’s monthly payments.

    Other Ways to Save: Net Metering
    Homeowners with panels installed on their roofs can also benefit from net-metering. 

    “If you’re generating less than you’re using, the energy that was generated by the solar panels just goes directly into your house and you use it,” Helmus, a Sierra Club executive, explained. “If you generate more than you’re using at a given point, the excess will flow back onto the grid and your meter will effectively spin backwards and will count up a credit to be had for that external electricity.”

    If your meter spins backward, a credit will appear on your bill and lower the cost of your bill for that period.

    Shared Solar: A Roofless Alternative
    For people whose roofs aren’t suitable for solar or for individuals who rent their homes, Helmus suggested the state's shared solar pilot program as an alternative. 

    Through the program, residents can subscribe to a solar farm—panels installed on land—and buy their solar form the farm at a cost that Helmus said is “less than they would be paying at the utility company.” 

    There are currently three shared solar projects underway in the state, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s website. Only Eversource and the United Illuminating Company can access the projects.

    There are projects in Bloomfield, Shelton and Thompson, Connecticut. 

    The Bloomfield project, available to Eversource customers, has 30 more residential spaces left for subscribers, according to Kelly Hadayia, the marketing director for the project’s solar operator, Clean Energy Collective. The Bloomfield project will be the first of the Connecticut solar farms to be connected to the electricity grid in mid-summer 2019. 

    Hadayia said the solar array will try to offset 100 percent of its subscribers’ electricity with solar energy. This number could fluctuate, Hadayia added, based on the season and sun exposure.

    “The average household, we suggest would save $150 in the first year and about $2,800 over the 20-year term of the contract,” Hadayia said. 

    Although the Thompson project officially started up in 2018, the project is still finalizing design and isn’t open to subscribers yet, according to Robert Oden, the vice president of U.S. Solar, the company that owns the array.

    The Shelton site, only open to United Illuminating customers, will go live in September 2019.

    Renewable Energy Credits
    Klein, a Sierra Club executive, said people who can’t purchase solar equipment or participate in shared solar can also switch to the green option through their utility company.

    “For every kilowatt of power that you use, the electric company is buying a kilowatt of power from somebody elsewhere—not in Connecticut—who’s producing clean energy, and that’s called renewable energy credits,” Klein said. “So it’s kind of like a trade.”

    "The climate is getting ruined right now and we need to make changes right now,” Klein said. “Use less power by making their homes more efficient. Get off fossil fuels...And go solar, because you can do that locally, residentially, business or municipal.”