FAQ’s for Solarize RI program

What is the cost to the town?
A. Town money is not used for the Solarize program. Solarize materials are paid for in large part by the installer with support from the State of Rhode Island’s Office of Energy Resources, Commerce Rhode Island and the non-profit marketing firm SmartPower, with the support of The John Merck Fund. Grassroots efforts, as well as local program management, are coordinated and managed by SmartPower along with town leaders and local volunteers.

Why is the town promoting one installer or a small group of installers?
A. The Solarize program works by giving residents the benefit of economies of scale. An installer can offer reduced prices by concentrating their efforts in one area and working with the community to spread the word about the program. The more people in the community who sign up, the lower the price goes for everyone — even the first people who signed up!

How was the designated installer or installer group selected?
A. The process begins with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (Commerce RI) issuing a Request for Proposals from installers who were interested in serving the towns participating in Solarize. A selection committee that includes OER, Commerce RI, SmartPower and the town, reviews proposals based on prices, quality of the equipment to be installed, quality of service, and overall track record.

What if I don’t live in one of the communities chosen to participate in the municipal program?

The benefits of the Solarize RI program are available to all residents in RI. If you are not a resident of one of the chosen municipalities, you can still benefit from competitive pricing and all of the state’s incentives. Refer to the Solarize RI homepage for more information about how to get started.

How do I know if my home is suitable for solar?
A. A solar installer can help you determine if your home is suitable for solar energy. However, the best location for a roof-mounted solar PV system is a south-facing roof with little to no shading from nearby trees, chimneys or other obstructions. Any shading on the system can reduce energy output, so it is important to assess the locations of current trees and buildings around your home as well as that of other obstructions that may exist around your home in the future. Advances in panel and inverter technologies can allow homes with east or west-facing roofs and moderate shading to benefit from solar PV as well.

Will the system produce electricity on cloudy days?
A. Yes, just not as much. Under an overcast sky, panels will produce less electricity than they produce on a clear, sunny day.

Will my system produce power if there is a blackout?
A. Without a battery backup, grid-tied solar PV systems will not operate when the power grid is down. This safety requirement allows utility line workers to safely repair power lines during a power outage. You may choose to add a battery backup to your solar system to keep the lights on during a blackout. This could add an additional $5,000 and $15,000 to the cost of your system.

How long will the installation process take?
A. From the day you sign a contract with an installer, it can a few months before your solar PV system will be turned on. The physical installation of the solar system typically takes anywhere from two to three days, but the time it takes to order and receive equipment, secure permits or schedule your installation can vary.  Once installed, systems typically will need to be inspected by the town and utility. The installer will discuss the timeline with you when you sign a contract.

What sort of maintenance is required?
A.  Solar PV systems require very little maintenance. Rain showers will generally take care of pollen and dust that fall on your solar panels. If your system is shaded by trees, you may have to trim and maintain branches to protect your system from falling limbs and to minimize shading and maximize production. In extremely snowy winters, you may have to clear snow from your roof to protect your solar panels and maximize winter production.  It is important to note that snow will melt off of a tilted system except when there is an extremely heavy snow or prolonged freezing temperatures.

What size system should I install?
A. Every home is different. As such, your system size will be determined by your roof space and electricity needs. In Rhode Island, system size is limited to 125% of your maximum historical on-site energy usage. The average residential solar system is approximately 7 kW and produces approximately 8,400 kWh per year, but this could be too big or too small for your home. If you use certain technologies that are highly dependent on electricity, such as an electric car or geothermal heating and cooling, you might require a larger system. Your installer will work with you to design a system with characteristics that will meet your specific needs.

How will solar affect my home’s value?
Typically, solar systems add to a property’s value. This is due to the fact that once added to your home, there will be a minimal electricity bill. Thus, a solar PV system insulates you from rising electricity rates. Once the system has paid for itself, the electricity it generates is absolutely free! In addition, some towns in RI have exempted solar from being included in property tax assessments.

How much will I save by installing a solar system?
A. Your savings depend on the size of the system you choose, your annual electrical usage, electricity rates, and any financing option that you choose from your Solarize installer. To start, ask your solar installer how much electricity your new system is expected to produce on an annual basis and then compare that number to how much electricity your household uses to get an idea of how much you could save. Additionally, a homeowner’s savings are affected by the financing package chosen, as is discussed below. Installers can also help you determine how much money you could save if electricity prices escalate over time.

I am confused about my electricity charges; can you explain my service rates?
A. Typically, a residential electricity bill is comprised of charges from a variety of services, mainly: generation services, delivery services, transmission charge, and distribution charge. For further reference, please go to National Grids’ website and click on “Service Rate” to see rate description and pricing schedule.

Will I still receive a monthly electric bill after installing a solar system?
A. Yes. You will receive a monthly bill from your utility company as you always have, but the amount owed will differ depending on your solar output for that month. If your system generates more energy than you use during a given month, you will accrue credits for the excess from National Grid. These can offset electricity usage in months where solar output is less than your energy usage. This program is called ‘net metering’. Even if your system entirely offsets your electrical usage, there is still a flat monthly fee to be connected to the grid.

Will installing a solar system increase my tax base?
A. Four RI municipalities have passed property tax exemptions for solar energy equipment. The four towns are: North Smithfield, Barrington, Foster, and Smithfield.  In communities that do not have a property tax exemption, a homeowner may see an increase in property tax after the system is installed. The amount of this increase would depend on the municipal tax rate and the value of the installed system. Residents should check with their tax assessor to learn more.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover my system?
A. You should notify your insurance agent that you have added the solar PV system on your home. Typically there is a either a small or no increase in your premium.

Are state incentives available for my system?
A. There are two renewable energy incentives for homeowners and small businesses in RI:

Renewable Energy Fund Grant: A fund managed by Commerce which offsets the up-front cost of residential and commercial PV systems by awarding grants to qualifying projects. Grants start at $1.15.watt. An average residential system (5.5 kW) would qualify for a grant of $6,325.

Renewable Energy Growth (Feed – In Tariff):  Residential customers will be paid by National Grid for their solar production. Payments are available for 15 or 20 years for residential customers, or 20 years for non-residential customers. National Grid will pay from 29.8 cents to 41.3 cents per kW hour for solar generation.

Are there resources available to help me afford solar?

A. Some customers choose to pay for their solar installations with cash, but many choose to finance the purchase of their solar PV system. Installers working with Solarize communities may offer different financing options to their customers and can refer homeowners to local banks or financial institutions based on their goals.

Are federal incentives available for my system?
A. The federal government provides an investment tax credit equal to 30% of your system’s total installed cost, net of state incentives. This can be claimed on your 2015 tax return. This tax credit is set to expire on December 31, 2016.

Are there other energy efficiency improvements I can make in my home, especially if I can’t go solar?
A. There are likely several energy efficiency actions you can take in your home. For more information go to: https://www1.nationalgridus.com/SavingTips.

To be eligible for the REF grant, residents need to have a home energy audit. You can learn more at https://www1.nationalgridus.com/HomeRI-RI-RES.  To sign up for a free home energy assessment visit: https://www.myngrid.com/energywise or call 1-888-633-7947.