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Massachusetts Man Gets Solar Panels After 30 Years of Waiting

Wednesday, August 31st 2011 4:39 PM
By GetSolar Staff.
Massachusetts Man Gets Solar Panels After 30 Years of Waiting Thirty years is a long time to wait for just about anything. But for SunRun customer Frank Lepine of Easthampton, Massachusetts, the wait turned out to be well worth it.

When residential solar installations first came in vogue in the U.S., Frank decided the new technology fit perfectly with his ideals of independence and environmental consciousness. Located along the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts, Easthampton offers plenty of green spaces for him to want to protect, but with costs at the time upwards of $40,000 it simply did not make sense for a young man with a growing family.

As years went by, however, electricity prices in Massachusetts did little to change Frank's mind regarding solar power. In 1996, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the average U.S. electricity rate was 6.86 cents per kilowatt-hour and Massachusetts was paying nearly one-and-a-half times that amount at 10.13 cents per kilowatt-hour. By 2009, the EIA reports the national rate had risen 9.82 cents per kilo-watt-hour, but Massachusetts was now paying an even higher proportion with prices climbing to 15.45 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Meanwhile, the state continues to rely on fossil fuels for most of its energy needs. According to the EIA state profile, Massachusetts drew more than half of its electricity from natural gas in 2009 and nearly another quarter coming from coal, with more than half of the remainder coming from nuclear power. Even in one of the most environmentally-conscious states, Frank felt like corporate interests dominated the energy field.

Frustrated with these ever increasing utility bills and the slow progress of renewable energy in the state, Frank turned his hopes back to residential solar installations. While prices have gone down for solar panels, the initial investment remains high.

However, with a little bit of poking around Frank discovered SunRun, a company that offers an innovative new model for purchasing residential solar installation. The homeowner either agrees to purchase the electricity produced by a solar power system at a fixed price or signs a more traditional lease and SunRun installs the solar panels at little or no cost. Reuters notes that this new approach has led to a boom in affordable solar power, with as many as one-third of the new California solar installations using this model.

With the help of the SunRun, Frank had the leeway to look around for the size and type of system that he wanted, ultimately settling on a 22-panel installation using solar panels produced by a local Massachusetts company. At 4.51 kilowatts, the system was a good deal smaller than Frank had initially hoped for, but he was limited to an extent by the availability of local solar incentives. The Database of State Incentives for Renewable & Efficiency details a huge range of solar incentives, in addition to a federal tax credit worth up to the one-third of the cost of the solar system, but the particular program Frank made use of was limited to systems under 5 kilowatts.

Nevertheless, instead of providing 110 percent of his home's energy needs, Frank's new solar installation accounts for 50 percent of his electricity. Since the house started making its own power in 2009, utility bills have plummeted, reaching as low as $33 per month in the summer from as much as $150 per month before, according to SunRun. Not to mention Frank finally gets to stop waiting for the state to catch up with him. 

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