Rhode Island residents are gaining significant benefits through a partnership of five New England states that are developing a consistent and cohesive infrastructure for a New England-region solar power industry. Recognizing that sunlight is free but solar panels are not, the state governments are working together to reduce costs in all five states for residents who invest in solar power systems for their homes or businesses. At the same time, the states expect to reduce their overall state carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels for electricity, and perhaps even improve their economies as well. If you’ve been intrigued by discussions about bringing solar power to your community, now is an excellent time or further investigation.
The New England Solar Cost-Reduction Partnership
The partnership (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island) is focused on providing a regional response to offset the cost of transferring customer reliance on fossil-fueled utilities to solar-powered utilities. Solar panels and cells are not inexpensive to manufacture, so the governments are looking to reduce the cost of other elements of a utility-sized alternative energy source. These “soft costs” include streamlining the permitting and interconnection processes (between solar and other power options), standardizing interconnections in general, coordinating zoning and planning rules, improving financial alternatives (including flexible financing options) and increasing net-metering opportunities. The overall project is administered and led by the Clean Energy States Alliance. The goal is a robust regional New England Solar Photovoltaic market.
The project launched in fall 2013, with a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy “SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge II” program. The purpose of the SunShot Initiative is to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with other forms of energy by 2020. The Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources is working closely with in- and out-of-state agencies to identify key areas for opportunities to grow and significant barriers that need to be overcome.
This project couldn’t have come at a better time. New England electricity prices will continue to rise this winter due to an under-supply of natural gas. The shortage will continue until new pipelines are built. Natural gas has replaced the fuel formerly supplied by regional coal- and oil-fired power plants, which were closed in the past ten years. Solar power offers a reliable and clean energy alternative.
A big region requires big ideas
The solar power project covers the whole of the five states and a population of more than 13 million people, so communications and collaborations will be key to success. The team has identified seven areas where connections and systems can be harmonized throughout the region:
1. Confirm and roll out “best practice” permitting processes:
Connecticut and Massachusetts crafted “best practices” for quickly and comprehensively permitting solar installations. These are being implemented incrementally in the other states, including Rhode Island.
2. Implement an online permitting system:
Accessing digital technology for statistical compliance speeds the process in model states, and can be duplicated by subsequent states.
3. Establish a model “solar zoning” code:
Massachusetts developed a workable code that covers both rooftop and ground-mounted systems.
4. Implement the “Solarize” community outreach model:
Rhode Island has adopted the “Solarize” project. “Solarize Rhode Island” is working to increase the adoption of small-scale solar electricity on a community level. Using a competitive, tiered pricing approach, the project increases the savings of everyone who signs a contract to install solar systems on their homes and businesses. Installation costs can be reduced by as much as 20 percent for participating residents. Municipalities are invited to apply to the fall 2015 “Solarize Rhode Island” Campaign. Applications can be found here, and are due by 4 pm EST Sept. 22. We are proud to say that RSG Energy was selected as the exclusive contractor for installations in Rhode Island’s first “SolarizeRI” project in the community of North Smithfield.
5. Implement improved solar financing options:
Rhode Island has made significant progress in finding funding for its solar powered citizens. Currently, state and federal incentives can reduce the cost of solar installations by as much as 50 percent. A 30 percent federal tax incentive is available through 2016 on both primary and secondary residences, as well as businesses. Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Fund offers further financial savings.
The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program is a federal financing system that allows energy efficient system installation costs (including solar installations) to be paid for over time, like a mortgage. The PACE payment stays with the building and is passed on to future owners of the property when it is sold.
Additionally, long-term savings through solar power are offered in paybacks over time. Solar systems have few, if any, moving parts, so maintenance costs are very small. The cost of installation can be recouped in as little as eight years, and the system itself is estimated to have a lifespan of up to 25 years. Net metering allows excess electricity to be fed back into the grid, which results in a credit on your power bill. And a California study indicates that solar powered homes sell at a premium rate compared to homes without solar.
6. Allow digital net metering registration:
The Internet offers further cost reductions by reducing the number of inspections necessary for net metered systems.
7. Update interconnection rules:
Connecting and monitoring solar systems with existing power sources requires new perspectives on existing services. Rules need updating to reflect innovations.
Rhode Island and its New England neighbors are leading the country in easing and unifying their citizen’s access to reasonably priced solar power energy. Perhaps it’s time for you to “Solarize” your Rhode Island home or business.
RGS Energy, founded in 1978, was the first solar energy system provider and installer in the United States, and it’s still the market leader. To learn how solar could lower your electric bills and to get a free quote, visit www.RGSEnergy.com.