Gail Neely has lived in Tompkins County most of her adult life, since she moved to Ithaca from North Carolina in 1989. She left the area briefly, but her love for Tompkins pulled her back. “I believe that home is where the heart resides -- where it endures and where it flourishes”, Gail said. “And for me that is right here in Tompkins County”. So a few years ago she settled down in her current home in Newfield. Although she was interested in going solar to contribute her own “little bit toward the collective goal of moving the world away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy”, she initially thought solar would be beyond her budget. But when she learned about the Go Solar Tompkins program through Get Your GreenBack’s newsletter she decided to give it a try. Gail is now powering her home with panels installed in August by local contractor Renovus Energy, and paying less a month on her loan than she was on her electrical bill.
When we reached out to Gail about sharing her story, she replied “I don’t mind at all ... if it will inspire others to go solar, especially those who think they can’t afford it.”
Here, with Gail’s help, we will walk you through what Gail calls her “great deal”.
Gail got a 5.44 kW system, mounted on a frame in her front yard, which will produce approximately 6,000 kWh of electricity a year. While a ground-mounted system was a little more expensive than one mounted on her roof, Gail liked the peace of mind of not disturbing the roof. The total cost of the 16-panel system, which includes software to monitor her electricity production and use online, was $15,971. This works out to be a little over $2.93 per watt of solar capacity, about $.20 more than the baseline cost for rooftop panels. However, Gail only ended up paying $5,229--less than a third--as Gail hit the solar-incentive jackpot. In addition to the federal and state-level incentives, she also qualified for Affordable Solar, a New York incentive to help with the cost of installation for low-to-moderate household income levels. Here’s how the numbers work out:
Of the final $5,229, Gail decided to pay $1,000 at signing, and financed the other $4,229 with a special 4.9% solar loan from Alternatives Federal Credit Union, with monthly payments of about $46 over 10 years.
How does that compare to her electrical bill? Recall that she will be generating 6,000 kWh a year or roughly 500 kWh a month. At current electricity prices of about 10.5 cents a kWh, that is $52.5 a month, over $6 more than what Gail is paying the bank for her solar panels. Even had Gail financed the full $5,229 she would be paying $55 a month for 10 years, slightly over the cost of electricity; financed over 15 years, payments would be $41 a month, significantly under the cost of electricity. Either way, the panels are guaranteed for 25 years, and will likely last longer than that. She will save big in the long run, and pay nothing extra now.
Gail will be able to keep any excess power that her system generates as a credit that rolls over year-to-year, and she can use it for any future household projects or upgrades that would require more energy. “I am extremely happy about that”, she said, “It makes what has been a long road to solar for me very worthwhile in the end."
As for advice Gail would give to someone else looking to go solar in Tompkins County, she said, “It might have been easier if I had known that NYSERDA seems to look more favorably on your request if you have energy efficiency improvements such as insulation and air-sealing done on your home before applying for solar loans and grants”. But she encourages that not to dissuade people, because, as she explained, “The good news is that there are special NYSERDA and local grants and incentives for [insulating your home], with even larger incentives if you are income-qualified. So don’t get discouraged and don’t get sidetracked. Just keep moving toward getting those panels.”