Wellesley has been aggressive over the past year in promoting solar energy for residents and businesses, offering some great deals based on group buying across town.
Among those who took advantage of the incentives was Doug Gribbel, whose family’s Smith Street home near the Wellesley High football field and track has been solarized. He’s now sharing his story via a new Facebook page called Wellesley Solar Geek. I caught up with Doug to get more details on why he’s sold on solar energy.
What first sparked your interest in going solar, and how long did it take you pull the trigger from that point?
We used to live in California, another solar-friendly state, but our house had a Spanish tile roof and was not a good candidate to go solar. When we bought our house in Wellesley last year, I knew it was a good solar candidate. As soon as we finished renovating the inside, I started shopping for solar options for the outside.
Were you the driving force in your household on this?
I was the driving force to go solar, but we all liked the idea of generating our own clean energy. I think my 16-year-old son was secretly hoping that it might encourage me to buy a Tesla electric car.
Have you ever worked in solar… or not to be indelicate, but do you have anything to gain by promoting this other than to spread the word? (What do you do for work?)
In CA, I used to work for SmartZip, a company that, among other things, analyzed the solar potential of homes. I know how valuable it is for solar companies to generate qualified leads because it’s a long sales process. I now work as an eCommerce Product Manager for Staples and have the technical understanding of how to advertise on Facebook and leverage social media. When I had a positive experience going solar, I wanted to spread the word to encourage others. For those whom I refer to the solar company that I used, they will save $500 and I will make a referral fee once they go solar. I plan to use part of these fees to continue to advertise the Wellesley Solar Geek page on Facebook to get the word out to other MA residents.
How good was your house rated as a solar candidate?
In order to be a good solar candidate, your house should have a large area of the roof that has a clear view of the southern sky. You can check this quickly by looking at an aerial view in Google maps. The panels are slightly larger than 3 x 5 feet and they don’t have to be all adjacent, as is the case on my house. I have panels on three different areas.
Despite the quick payback, pulling together $15K to invest in this sort of thing isn’t for everyone. Is it an all or nothing sort of proposition: Could you have gone into it at a lower starting price, or was $15K pretty much the standard starting price for your house?
I wanted to maximize my solar energy production (and thus savings) and my 4 kW system with 15 panels cost $14,895, before incentives, or about $1,000 per panel. Some solar companies offer low-cost lease programs, but they are not as attractive from a financial standpoint. From my perspective, I invested less than I would have paid to remodel another bathroom and instantly increased the market value of my home by much more than my initial net cash outlay. With incentives, I recovered over $6,500 within a month of my install. With a 25-year warranty on the panels, the solar benefits are completely transferable to the next home owner.
What were your major concerns about going solar?
I probably wouldn’t have gone solar if it meant covering the front roof with panels. If you walk by my house on the Brook path or on Smith Street, you won’t see any panels as they are all located on the back of the house. The new solar panels are now black, so they blend in better than more traditional blueish panels. I’d be nervous if I lived next to a baseball field or golf course, however!
Have you inspired anyone else yet to go solar?
My cousin also lives in Wellesley and he is in the process of getting a free quote from my solar company. He has lots of good south-facing roof area on the back of his house as well. There are already over 70 followers of my Wellesley Solar Geek Facebook page after just one week so I hope many more will decide to make the investment in solar as well.
When you mention that with your rebate check that you’ve now recovered 44% of your original cost, you’re saying that’s between the tax break, the rebate check and what else, just lower power costs?
I received a 30% tax credit from the federal government, a $1,000 tax credit from the state of MA, and a $1,050 rebate from the Wellesley Municipal solar incentive program. I’ve also started to save $50 to $100 per month in electricity costs and will be eligible to receive solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) from the utility company, paid annually. This doesn’t even include the instant increase in home equity that is exempt from property taxes by the way!
Do you expect the energy production to jump during the summer?
I do expect my solar production to increase in the summer, mostly because the days are longer and the sun is higher above the horizon. Solar panels are actually more efficient in cooler weather, however, and can produce energy even when it is cloudy. I can monitor my hourly, daily and monthly electricity production via an app on my smart phone, so it’s been fun for me to track (hence the Solar Geek name of my Facebook page).
How old was your roof when you put the panels on? Did you need to consider whether to replace it before investing in solar?
I just bought the house last year and had the roof inspected. It is probably around 10 years old and is in good shape. The solar company also inspected the roof structure before installing my system.
Any word on how panels survived at houses nailed by ice dams etc this winter?
Quentin Prideaux, who manages the Sustainable Wellesley Facebook page, also created a Google Group for all Wellesley solar owners to share information. There was a lot of discussion this winter about the effect of the snow. The recommendation is to just let the snow melt and slide off the panels. We had ice dams on our roof this winter, but probably would not have been affected if we had the panels on the roof to facilitate the removal of the snow.