Solarize FAQs for Homeowners

Q. What is Solarize Westchester?
A. Solarize Westchester is a program to make it easy and affordable for residents to go solar—that is, to convert sunlight into electricity that we can all use in our homes. It is a countywide initiative that municipalities compete to be part of. Solarize Westchester provides residents significant discounts off the cost of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, which is in addition to incentives from the state and federal governments.

Solarize Westchester is funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) through NY-Sun, a dynamic public-private partnership that is driving growth of the solar industry and making solar technology more affordable for all New Yorkers. NYSERDA is a public benefit corporation, which offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise, and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Q.What is the cost to the municipality?
A. Municipal funds are typically not used for the Solarize program. Solarize marketing materials are paid for in large part by the installer. Program management is supported by NYSERDA. Other grassroots efforts as well as local program management are handled by volunteers or officials in each community.

Q. Why is the town promoting one installer?
A. The Solarize program works by giving the community the benefit of economies of scale. An installer can offer reduced prices during the time-limited Solarize campaign by concentrating its efforts in one area and working with the community to spread the word about the program. But everyone is free to use another installer (or, of course, not to go solar at all).

Q. How was the designated installer selected?
A. Each selected Solarize Community pre-selects a qualified solar contractor for both residential and commercial installation systems. Contractors responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) and a selection team from the community with support from Solarize Westchester chooses an installer that is well-suited for that community. All solar contractors must be PV contractors eligible to provide state incentives from NYSERDA, have demonstrated experience with installing solar in Westchester County, provide references for their work and proof of insurance, and hold a Westchester County Home Improvement license. Commercial contractors must be able to provide PACE financing. In addition, contractors were selected based on the quality and value of their product offering and their capacity to serve the Solarize campaign.

Q. How do I know if my home is suitable for solar?
A. The most suitable location for a roof-mounted solar PV system is a south-facing roof with little to no shading from nearby trees, chimneys or other obstructions. Any shading on the system can reduce energy output, so it is important to assess the locations of current trees and buildings around your home as well as that of other obstructions that may exist around your home in the future. Advances in panel and inverter technologies can allow homes with east or west-facing roofs and moderate shading to benefit from solar PV as well.

Q. Will the system produce electricity on cloudy days?
A. Yes, just not as much. Under an overcast sky, panels will produce less electricity that they produce on a clear, sunny day.

Q. Will my system produce power if there is a blackout?
A. Without a battery backup, grid-tied solar PV systems will not operate when the power grid is down. This safety requirement, called “anti-islanding” allows utility linemen to safely repair power lines during a power outage. You may choose to add a battery backup to your solar system to keep the lights on during a blackout, though they cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

Q. How long will the installation process take?
A. From the day you sign a contract with an installer, it can take up to several months before your solar PV system will be turned on. The physical installation of the solar system typically takes anywhere from two to three days, but the time it takes to order and receive equipment, secure permits or schedule your installation can vary.  Once installed, systems typically will need to be inspected by the municipal building department and utility.

Q. What sort of maintenance is required?
A. Solar PV systems require very little maintenance. Rain showers will generally take care of pollen and dust that fall on your solar panels. If your system is shaded by trees, you may have to trim and maintain branches to protect your system from falling limbs and to minimize shading and maximize production. It is important to note that snow will melt off of a tilted system except when there is an extremely heavy snow or prolonged freezing temperatures.

Q. What size system should I install?
A. Every home is different. As such, your system size will be determined by your roof space and electricity needs. The average residential solar system in New York is approximately 7 kW and produces approximately 8,400 kWh per year, but this could be too big or too small for your home. If you use certain technologies that are highly dependent on electricity, such as an electric car or geothermal heating and cooling, you might require a larger system. Your installer will work with you to design a system with characteristics that will meet your specific needs.

Q. How much will I save by installing a solar system?
A. Your savings depend on the size of the system you choose, your annual electrical usage, electricity rates, and any financing option that you choose from your Solarize installer. To start, ask your solar installer how much electricity your new system is expected to produce on an annual basis and then compare that number to how much electricity your household uses to get an idea of how much you could save. Installers can also help you determine how much money you could save if electricity prices escalate over time.

Q. I am confused about my electricity charges; can you explain my service rates?
A. Typically, a residential electricity bill is comprised of charges from a variety of supplier services, mainly: generation services, delivery services, transmission charge, and distribution charge. For further reference, please go to your utilities website and search for “average bill” in the “Rates” section.

Q. Will I still receive a monthly electric bill after installing a solar system?
A. Yes. You will receive a monthly bill from your utility company as you always have, but the amount owed will differ depending on your monthly electrical usage. Depending on how your system is sized, you may accrue credits in the more productive summer months which through “net metering” can be carried over and used in the less productive winter months. Even if your system entirely offsets your electrical usage, there is still a flat monthly fee required, in order to be connected to the grid.

Q. Am I required to use the Solarize installer that was preselected for my community?
A. To take advantage of the pricing offered through the Solarize Westchester program during this time-limited campaign, you’ll need to work with your pre-selected installer. However, residents in your community are free to work with any contractor they wish to do business with.

Q. How will solar affect my home’s value?
A. Typically, solar systems add to a property’s value. This is due to the fact that unlike electricity rates, the cost of the electricity produced by installed PV systems will never go up. Thus, a solar PV system insulates you from rising electricity rates. Once the system has paid for itself, the electricity it generates is absolutely free!

Q. Will installing a solar system increase my tax base?
A. No. Despite the fact that your property value will increase, state law exempts residential clean energy systems from property taxes for 15 years. Exemption claims (Exemption Application Form RP-487) must be filed with the assessor or board of assessors in the town in which the property is placed in service on or before November 1st in the applicable assessment year. Applications are not required each year as long as no major alterations are made to the renewable energy system. Make sure to contact your local tax assessor’s office for more information. Details also available at http://www.tax.ny.gov/research/property/assess/manuals/vol4/pt1/sec4_01/sec487.htm.

Additionally, any passive or active solar water or space heating system or geothermal energy resource is exempt from property taxes, regardless of the type of facility the system serves.

Q. Does homeowners insurance cover my system?
A. If you prefer to own your system directly and either purchase it outright or finance it via a loan, you should check with your insurance agent to find out whether your system will be covered under your existing policy.

Q. Are state incentives available for my system?
A. NYSERDA provides incentives to help New York homeowners go solar. The amount of incentive provided is based on the size of your system, orientation, shading and other factors. Please note that the dollar amount of the NYSERDA incentive per watt is being gradually reduced over time. There is also a state tax credit of 25%, up to $5,000.

Q. Are federal incentives available for my system?
A. The federal government provides an investment tax credit equal to 30% of your system’s total installed cost, net of state incentives. This can be claimed on your 2015 tax return. This tax credit is set to expire in 2016.