Go Solar

Did you know that over 400 homes went solar in 2014 in Tompkins County, more than doubling the number of homes being powered by the sun?

Now is a great time to go solar. Solar can provide up to 100+% of your home electricity, and the incentives for going solar typically covers up to 60-65% of a system's cost. For many families with good solar sites, this can often mean that there is no upfront cost required, and they can go solar for a monthly cost the same or less than what they are currently paying the electric utility. Remote solar sites and community solar farms means homeowners with shady roofs and renters can also go solar.

*Assuming $3.19/w installed cost minus NYSERDA rebate, and federal and state tax credits for a 6,000 watt system on a roof with good solar exposure. **Simple savings calculated using 11 cents a kWh, with no change in price over the next 20 years, so savings are likely larger than above. ***Using EPA carbon estimates for our region’s electricity mix.

*Assuming $3.19/w installed cost minus NYSERDA rebate, and federal and state tax credits for a 6,000 watt system on a roof with good solar exposure. **Simple savings calculated using 11 cents a kWh, with no change in price over the next 20 years, so savings are likely larger than above. ***Using EPA carbon estimates for our region’s electricity mix.

Ask questions, get advice, share your thoughts on the local online forum on solar energy.

How can i go solar?

1. Get a free solar estimate from one of our area professional solar contractors, all of whom have agreed to a set of good practice standards:

Please let them know you learned of them through Get Your GreenBack.

(In addition, Halco, ETM Solar Works, and Solar is Hot provide solutions for solar hot water.)

2. Review the quote with the contractor 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. This online guide from NY-Sun provides an overview of the process of going solar in NYS, and good tips for working with contractors and understanding your NYS incentives. In addition, 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.

Who should Go Solar?

  • Homeowners with a good south-facing roof - you have no excuse not to go solar!

  • Homeowners without good solar exposure - can do either pole mounted or purchase solar through Community Solar options with Renovus or Taitem

  • Renters can even consider the community solar option

Costs, Rebates & Savings

A typical roof-mounted home solar system will cost $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:

  1. NYSERDA rebate - $0.40/watt (as of Jan 2017; 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, $0.80/watt vs $0.40/watt).


(much adapted from the Solar Tompkins website, where you can find many more questions and answers)

  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 without solar electric and compared their sale price. Conclusion: solar PV increases value of home to the tune of $4 per Watt--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 everyone.

Got Additional Questions and/or Ideas?

  • Get in touch with Terry Carroll, Energy Educator at Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, tc629@cornell.edu, (607) 272-2292 ext. 268
  • Join the conversation on the Online Forum for Solar Energy
  • The Solar Energy Industries Association has a number of guides for consumers on working with contractors, community solar, and leasing land to solar companies.