Like the rest of the country, Vermont is looking at a variety of energy options to replace existing sources that are too expensive or are bad for the environment. Unlike the rest of the country, Vermont gets over 70 percent of its electrical energy from nuclear power, most of which is generated at the Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Vermont is first in the nation for nuclear power generation.
One upside of nuclear power is that the reactor itself doesn’t contribute to carbon dioxide volume in the atmosphere. However, the mining and transport of its uranium fuel source create that carbon emission problem. The downside with nuclear electricity generation is that it is also very expensive. On average, Vermonters pay electricity prices that are 29 percent higher than the national average, and Vermont is 12th in the nation for electricity costs. After nuclear power for electricity, the state accesses its hydro resources (20+ percent) and then biomass burning (5+percent).
Vermont is also unique because, while its electricity generation is fairly low-carbon emitting, it’s heat generation resources are definitely not. Approximately 85 percent of Vermonters heat their homes with fossil fuel energy sources (fuel oil, natural gas and propane).
If you are interested in reducing both your power bills AND the state’s contribution to global warming issues, solar powered electricity offers an excellent opportunity as a home or business electric energy resource.
You might think that Vermont is not well situated to generate significant electricity from solar power systems, considering its relatively northern location. In fact, Germany actually sits farther north geographically and is the world leader in solar power installations.
Vermont currently has more than 1,700 solar installations and is actively participating in programs to increase that number. In 2014, Vermont installed 38 MW (megawatts) of solar capacity, which ranked it at 18th nationally for 2014 installations. The state is currently 22nd overall for total MW of installed solar capacity with 79 MW up and running. Solar power actually powers more than 8,000 Vermont homes today.
The efficiency of solar electric systems has improved significantly, due to innovations in manufacturing of solar cells that have increased output but not cost. The improvements have also affected the price of solar installations, with costs falling 12 percent from 2014, and more than 40 percent since 2010. The shrinking cost and the fact that solar energy is environmentally responsible have both contributed to the solar industry attracting $76 million in investment in 2014 in Vermont alone, which supported more than 1,000 industry employees. Clearly Vermont has a strong economic interest in increasing its energy generation through solar power systems.
Credits and incentives: The tax incentives are an additional motivator to choose solar power, as well. At both the state and federal levels, tax credits reduce the actual cost of solar installations, which is the biggest cost associated with acquiring a solar power system. Once installed, solar power systems need almost no maintenance since they have no moving parts and only require cleaning or clearing of weather debris.
To reduce installation costs and attract more converts to solar energy in general, the federal government currently offers a 30 percent tax credit, which is available through December 2016. Although there is anticipation that Congress will renew this credit after that, it would be prudent to take advantage of it while it exists.
At the state level, Vermont also offers unique incentives for switching home electricity generation to solar. Homes with a net metering function use a combination of grid-based and solar generation, but only draw grid-based power when the solar option is not available. When there is abundant solar power, the excess electricity that is not used by the home is sent back to the grid. The excess electricity has a financial value to both the homeowner and the utility, which would normally be about 12 to 13 cents per kW.
However, Vermont also has a law — the “Statewide Solar Adder” — that requires utilities to pay homeowners more for their excess solar power than homeowners pay for their grid-based power. Customers whose systems return power to the grid are paid 20 cents/kW, reducing their home electricity costs even more. The credit for “solar adder” electricity lasts for 10 years after the system is installed.
There are other options available for homeowners who might want to finance their solar power system, rather than buying it outright. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program lends funds to purchase and install solar power installations. The loan acts like a mortgage — it is “assessed” to the home and is repaid over 20 years. The loan attaches to the system/house, and transfers with the house when it is sold. There are more than 30 municipalities in Vermont that have local ordinances implementing the PACE program.
Nuclear, hydro or fossil fuels — as energy sources, they all generate electrical energy but at great financial and environmental cost. If you’re interested in saving money while reducing the impact of electricity generation on your community, this is an excellent time to investigate a solar electricity generation system for your 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.