Go Solar

Think solar is expensive? Think again! There are now affordable options for homeowners and renters to supply 100% of your home's electricity

Now is a great time to go solar. There are three different ways to power your home with solar, with options for homeowners and renters. If you purchase a system, incentives for going solar typically cover up to 60-65% of a system's cost. But purchase is not required; there are options to purchase solar power generated locally at prices that are lower than the utilities'.

Three Ways to go solar

1. Residential Onsite Solar

This is the traditional way of going solar--installing panels on your roof or on a structure on your property. Onsite solar can be a particularly good investment, with up to two-thirds of the cost being covered by state and federal incentives. If you finance the rest, your monthly payments can be the same as what you are currently paying the utility for electricity.

Get a free solar estimate from one of our area professional solar contractors:

2. Community Solar Purchase

If you don't have a good location on your property, but still would like to purchase panels, community shared solar is a good option. Here, you purchase a set of solar panels that are part of a community solar farm which is built in an optimal location with no shading.

Through net-metering, you use, keep track of, and get credited for the electricity as if the panels were on your property.

While the cost per-watt is often cheaper than traditional residential installations, the savings are generally more modest than installing them on your property due to increased maintenance costs and incentive restrictions.

Currently there are two local contractors offering this model:

3. Community Subscription Solar

Subscription Solar allows you to buy solar credits directly from a solar farm in our region without owning the panels. This can be a great option for renters or for those who are unable to purchase a solar system for other reasons.

Subscription models don't tend to have upfront costs, are usually short-term contracts, and can be cheaper than utility rates. Savings can be more modest than owning panels, however.

There are a handful of Subscription Solar providers in our region:

Visit this CCE-Tompkins page to learn more about the Subscription Solar model, and read about a Tompkins County family that has had a great experience with it on our blog.

“Solar for All” - Free Community Solar!

In addition, low-income residents—both homeowners and renters—can get free subscription solar through NYSERDA’s Solar for All program. Residents get solar credits on their bill and there are no costs, fees, or payments to participate.

Apply online here or download a paper application here.

Steps to Solar

1. Get quotes from local contractors.

2. Review the quotes with the contractors and your options for siting, your ability to take advantage of the tax incentives, and financing options (up front, low interest loans, and lease)

3. Sign the contract. Get on the installer’s construction schedule. They will complete all of the project engineering, permitting, interconnection, and financing paperwork, including what you need to claim the incentives.   

4. Financing available. There are a number of local financing options with low interest rates that may help you finance your solar project. Monthly solar savings may be able to cover your loan payments.

5. Be Wise.  Get Your GreenBack has a draft guide [pdf] for working well with local contractors.

Learn more about Going Solar by checking out this very informative presentation by Melissa Kemp, the program coordinator for the Solar Tompkins campaign that concluded in 2014. Note that incentive levels have changed since then.

Gail Neely in Newfield pays less for solar than she did for electricity. Photo: Susie Plotkin

Gail Neely in Newfield pays less for solar than she did for electricity. Photo: Susie Plotkin

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”. ...

Read Gail's full story on our blog.

Costs, Rebates & Savings

While costs are site and contractor specific, here is a chart with estimated costs based in part on prices found in a 2017 solar campaign in Tompkins County.

So you can see that for on-site solar, an average 7 kW roof-mounted home solar system could cost about $20,000. However, existing incentives can cover up to 2/3 of that cost, so the cost to you would be closer to $7,000. If financed your monthly payment could be similar or lower than your existing monthly electrical bill, and after 10 years, you'll be getting electricity for free for years to come.

There are three main incentives available to homes in the area for purchasing solar:

  1. NYSERDA rebate - $0.35-$0.70*/watt (as of June 2018; rebate decreases over time)

  2. NYS Tax Credit** - 25% of cost, up to $5,000. Credit can be claimed over five years.

  3. Federal Tax Credit - 30% of cost. Valid for projects completed through 2019 (then it decreases).

*Income-eligible households (e.g. in Tompkins County, a family of four earning less than $69,503) qualify for two times the normal NYSERDA rebate (currently, $0.70/watt vs $0.35/watt).

**The NYS tax credit is just for systems installed at your personal residence, and is not eligible for purchases on community solar farms, though we are aware of customers who have claimed it. See this NYSERDA page for more info.


(much adapted from Solar Tompkins)

  1. But it’s so cloudy in Ithaca and upstate! Can solar work here? New York has an excellent solar resource, which is equivalent to about 2/3rds of that of Arizona and Southern California annually, and much more than in Germany, which leads the world in solar installs.

  2. Can Solar PV meet 100% of my electricity needs? Absolutely, solar PV can definitely meet 100% of your electricity needs and this is the goal of most people. Typically systems are designed to meet 100% of your electrical usage on an annual basis. Smaller systems are also just fine and sometimes can make more sense because of space or budget constraints.

  3. How big of a PV system would I need to power my home? To get a rough estimate, you can divide your annual electrical usage (in kWh) by 1.1. This will give you the size of the system in Watts, assuming you have good solar exposure. For a better approximation, you can use this solar calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

  4. What about solar hot water? Heating water with the sun's works well in our region and can be a good solution for your home's hot water needs. There are incentives available to reduce the cost of the system. Some local contractors with expertise in this field are ETM Solar Works, Halco and Solar is Hot.

  5. Will solar affect the value of my home? Likely, yes. There is strong evidence that solar PV positively impacts home value. A 2015 study from Berkeley Lab “Selling Into the Sun” [pdf] looked at 1000s of homes with and without solar electric and compared their sale price. Conclusion: solar PV increases value of home to the tune of $4 per Watt (e.g. $20,000 for a 5kW system)--but only when the solar system is owned (not leased).

  6. Is my home right for solar? Solar works best facing south, southwest, and southeast. There should be minimal shading from trees, buildings, chimneys and other obstacles, or the cause of the shading should be able to be mitigated. Shading can be measured exactly by a contractor, and that is a standard part of the site assessment process. Another possible consideration for installing solar is the condition of your roof. Roofs should typically have at least 7-10 years of life remaining in order for a new solar system to be located there. If you have a roof that is older than that or in poor condition, your contractor can help you get an estimate for replacing all or just part of the roof to enable the installation of a solar system.

You can also install solar on the ground, or purchase solar through a solar farm. Solar can work for virtually everyone.

Got Additional Questions and/or Ideas?

  • Get in touch with Annalise Kukor, Energy Educator at Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, abk95@cornell.edu, (607) 272-2292

  • The Solar Energy Industries Association has a number of guides for consumers on working with contractors, community solar, and leasing land to solar companies.