Many Alternatives Available for “Going Solar”

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Tompkins Weekly     7-18-16

By Terry Carroll

Solar energy is rapidly growing across New York State, creating new opportunities for consumers who want to go green, save money and become energy independent.

There are many different paths to “going solar,” with several new models developing over just the past year. The first step to knowing how to harness the power of the sun is to learn what your options are and how they work.

The traditional solar ownership model is still the most popular. In this model, the consumer owns the solar panels and they are placed on their own property, either on the roof of a structure such as a house or garage, or they are mounted on poles and placed within a short distance of the house.

This model works particularly well for people who own their homes and have a site with good solar orientation that isn’t shaded by trees or other structures. Owning your own panels is a great option for those who see solar as a long-term investment, but may not be a good fit for those who may want to sell their house in the near future.

Community shared solar is a newer model that developed thanks to regulations that allow consumers to buy solar panels and have them placed on a solar farm rather than their homes.

This is made possible through remote net metering, a process where your solar panel’s production is recorded and credited to you through your electric bill even when located on someone else’s property.

Like the traditional ownership model, community shared solar is a great opportunity for those who have the finances to own solar panels but may be unable or unwilling to put solar panels on their property.

For those unable to finance or afford solar panels at this moment, there are a growing number of options available. Until recently, solar panel leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) were the only option available. PPAs and leases allow a developer to place solar panels on a resident’s home and sell them the energy it generates, often at a lower-than-market-value rate.

This model involves little to no upfront investment and is one way to lower your energy costs while switching to renewable energy sources; however, there are some things to be aware of. Solar leases and PPAs can put a lien on your house if you’re unable to pay under the terms of your contract. They also offer little in terms of long-term investment.

A new option that’s being developed in our area is “Pay As You Go” community solar. Currently only provided by Renovus Solar, it has been compared to a cell phone plan, with the consumer buying a certain amount of energy over a year and paying for overages or carrying over the balance from month to month.

We’re still learning many of the details about “Pay As You Go,” but it may offer another option for renters or those unable to own solar panels to buy renewable energy at a lower-than-market-value rate.

With so many options it can be hard to decide on what may be the best model for you and your family—but there are now more good options than ever before.

Your first step should be to research the companies in your area to become aware of what options they offer and how they fit your lifestyle. Once you have an idea of what solar energy consumer model might be right for you, call the installer of your choice to get a quote or use to request estimates from several installers at once.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about the different types of solar, visit or call Cornell Cooperative Extension at 272-2292 and ask to speak to the Energy Team about finding out which solar option might work best for you.

Terry Carroll is an Energy Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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