How using solar energy can benefit homes and businesses
There are benefits to going solar, but there are a number of considerations to investigate: When will it work? Is my site sufficient? What kind of investment can I expect to make? What about financing? We reached out to a number of solar industry experts to learn more about how using solar energy can benefit homes and businesses in New Hampshire.
GRANITE STATE SOLAR Eric Kilens, Senior Solar Advisor granitestatesolar.com
Q. Do solar panels work in a power outage?
Kilens: “This is the biggest misconception in solar. The answer is: no, and it’s for safety reasons. Solar panels send excess power that doesn’t get used on site out to the grid, and the utility pays you for this energy thanks to net metering. But if you export power to the grid during an outage, you could potentially hurt a lineman working to get the power back on.
So, panels are designed to automatically turn off when they detect a power outage. That said, there is a way to keep your panels on during an outage, and that’s with a battery. During an outage, the battery is smart enough to disconnect your property from the grid so your panels keep producing. Your property then runs off of your solar and the backup energy in the battery.”
Q. Does solar have a big up-front cost?
Kilens: “Solar is an investment — pay for the system now, and you won’t have electric bills down the line. And yes, this standard model does have a big up-front cost.
But now, there are some great financing options that offset this upfront burden. Spreading the cost out over a period of time makes it much more affordable, and while you’re paying down the debt, your solar is handling your electric bill. Many of our business customers work with their existing lenders partners and can get a loan payment similar to their electric bill once incentives are applied. For residential customers, we offer financing through VSECU.”
Q. Besides a reduced electricity bill, what are the other advantages of solar?
Kilens: “Energy independence is a huge one. We hear all the time: ‘My rates are constantly going up. I don’t even know why!’ With solar, you’re insulating yourself from this problem because you’ve made the investment up-front to own your power. Plus, if you do opt for financing, you’re replacing an electric bill that fluctuates with the seasons with one, regular payment. Going solar also helps our local economy. Rather than sending money out of state for energy (largely from fossil fuels), you’re using home-grown solar.
It’s especially impactful when you select a New Hampshire-based solar company, which generates high-quality jobs right here in-state. And, oh yeah, it’s a pretty big win for the planet, too.”
Q. NH has a “Renewable Portfolio Standard.” What does this mean with regard to solar systems?
Kilens: “New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires electricity suppliers to obtain a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. Electricity suppliers can meet this requirement by purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) from qualified renewable energy sites including solar. An REC is equal to 1 Mwh of solar generation. Solar customers get paid for each REC that is created and sold, and this revenue goes above and beyond net metering to offset their electric bills. That means that solar customers can recoup their investment faster. It’s the icing on the cake!”
ORR & RENO
P.A. Douglas L. Patch, shareholder orr-reno.com
Q. What energy projects require federal, state and local approval?
Patch: “In New Hampshire any project that is 30 megawatts or larger, or an instate transmission line that meets certain minimum requirements, must get the approval of the state Site Evaluation Committee. A 30-megawatt facility is usually large enough to serve approximately 7,000 average New Hampshire homes annually. If a project is larger than 5 megawatts but less than 30, the committee may take jurisdiction over the project on its own or if asked by a group of petitioners or by the host community or two abutting communities. There are often state permits that a project must get, like a wetlands or alteration of terrain permit, even if the committee does not have jurisdiction. If the committee does have jurisdiction, these permits are absorbed into the committee process. If not, then in addition to the separate state permits that might be required, there are likely to be local requirements, such as planning or zoning board approval. Unless it is an interstate transmission line, no federal approval is required other than if a federal permit, such as for water quality, wildlife or aviation, is required. Transmission projects that cross state lines require approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Site Evaluation Committee process at the state level typically takes in the range of 16 months to complete. Local approvals can vary, but are typically complete in a matter of months.”
Q. Does the state have an energy policy?
Patch: “The state of New Hampshire is required to and does have a state energy strategy; it must adopt and/or update one at least every 10 years. The State Office of Strategic Initiatives is in the process of soliciting comments prior to updating the policy in 2021. (Here is a link: https://www.nh.gov/osi/news-events/public-notice/index.htm.) The current strategy says that it aims to be a resource for decisionmakers facing choices about the future of New Hampshire’s energy policies and programs. It is organized into four main categories: electric grid of the future; investments in cost effective energy efficiency; fuel diversity and choice; and increased transportation options.”
Q. Does the Legislature get involved in setting energy policy?
Patch: “The state Legislature does get involved in setting energy policy, typically by passing laws that provide the broad outline of what the policy should be and leaving the details to the Public Utilities Commission and to some degree the Office of Strategic Initiatives to implement those policies. One example of that was the New Hampshire Electric Utility Restructuring Act, passed 25 years ago, which separated the generation of electricity from its distribution, so that electric utilities could not own generation. This put the risk of investments in generation onto stockholders, not ratepayers, and allowed competitive suppliers into the market to compete for customers.”
Q. Are there any changes taking place with regard to energy policy in the state?
Patch: “The Legislature has before it a bill put forth by the governor which would reorganize the energy portion of state government by adding a Department of Energy and shifting some responsibilities that are currently housed in the Public Utilities Commission to this new agency. The PUC would still be there, but it would become almost exclusively a quasi-judicial agency designed to hear and resolve energy/utility cases. Here is a link to the legislation (sections 63-68 of HB 2): gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billText.aspx?sy=2021&id=1080&txtFormat=html
Q. What are the energy projects currently operating and being considered in the state?
Patch: “In addition to the natural gasfired powered plants, the nuclear power facility, the wood burning power plants, the hydro powered generating facilities and the coal burning facility, New Hampshire has four commercial scale wind projects operating in the state in Lempster, Antrim, Groton and Coos County. One commercial scale solar project has been approved to be constructed in Fitzwilliam but has not yet been built. Currently in development or under consideration are a number of other solar projects and some on-shore wind, though most wind projects being considered in New England right now are off-shore. Energy storage projects, which would take energy generated by other power plants and store it for future use, are also under consideration.”
GREEN LANTERN SOLAR
Eden Shullenberger, Director of Marketing Geoff Sparrow, Director of Development Ralph Meima, Director of Development greenlanternsolar.com
Q. What are some of the benefits of investing in solar energy for my business, school or municipality, etc?
Shullenberger: “There are numerous benefits for businesses and the like to commit to net metering solar, from guaranteed financial savings to environmental protection and altruism. Green Lantern Solar has created a financing solution that allows all customers a zero upfront cost solution guaranteeing significant financial savings in offsetting utility bills. No land or roof is required either. On top of the significant financial savings, organizations are helping to drive investment in the state’s economy, create local jobs, contribute to the state’s decarbonization goals, and create a positive brand image for your shareholders, your customers and your local community.”
Q. What traits are considered when siting a large ground mounted solar array?
Sparrow: “Developers are tasked with finding potential solar sites that check quite a few boxes. The two major ones are proximity to a three-phase utility circuit that has capacity and finding a property that has sufficient buildable area to host an appropriately sized array. Identifying a utility circuit with capacity can be easy or hard, depending on what information the utility is able to share with developers. Sophisticated utilities often publish online ‘Hosting Capacity Maps.’ Developers use this information to target certain areas to look for land parcels. Many times utilities do not have or do not share this information unless it is required by law. In these cases, developers will roll the dice and pay some money to a utility to do an interconnection study to find out if a particular interconnection point has capacity. An ideal solar site in terms of buildability is easy to access, relatively flat, has little or no wetlands, and is close to threephase power. Visual impact is also a consideration. Projects that are highly visible and/or are in many people’s backyards will tend to have a harder time getting through local permitting. Green Lantern Solar firmly believes that it is our responsibility as developers to responsibly site projects that will not have objectionable impacts on neighbors and the environment. Green Lantern maintains a strong commitment to revitalize environmentally impacted and under used properties such as brownfield and extraction sites and capped landfills whenever possible.”
Q. What advantages exist for landowners who decide to host a solar array on their property? Why would a landowner want to host a solar array on their property?
Sparrow: “The advent of large-scale ground-mounted solar arrays have been a blessing for property owners across the country. The landower gets to realize a steady land lease income for up to 35 years and does not have to pay anything towards developing the project. The project developer bears all responsibilities for permitting, utility interconnection, financing, construction and maintenance. At the end of the lease term, the project owner is responsible for removing the entire project and converting the site back to a natural state, which in most cases means a meadow. There is a very likely chance that at the end of the lease term, there will be value in rebuilding another solar array at the site, especially considering that the site already has a utility interconnection, access roads, etc. The lease income that a landowner receives helps them from having to sell off their property due to its tax burden. Farmers who host arrays on their property get to realize an additional revenue stream for their business. Towns that host solar arrays are able to reduce their tax rates.”
Q. In the winter, do solar panels need to be brushed, shoveled, or scraped free of ice and snow?
Meima: “Typically, it is cheaper and safer to just let the winter sunshine melt snow and ice off solar panels. Under normal circumstances, it does not take much sunshine to thaw the tilted panels and cause ice to melt and snow to slide down and off. Once a small amount of dark panel area is exposed, the panels start generating electricity, which warms them and finishes the job. Additionally, When snow melts off the panels, it cleans any dust or dirt that has accumulated increasing production. Solar energy is very lowmaintenance and Green Lantern Solar’s in house operations and maintenance team is on hand to address any issues that arise.”
Steve Scott, SVP, Commercial Lending Officer, Greater Portsmouth New Hampshire bankprov.com
Q. What financial incentives are there in New Hampshire for investing in solar energy or a solar system?
Scott: “Currently the only incentive in New Hampshire is for Commercial and Industrial projects (as opposed to residential projects). The incentives for the project are limited to 25% of the total project cost or $10,000 (whichever is less). The program is available to nonresidential structures with a commercial electric meter located in New Hampshire and must be new. Expansions to existing solar systems aren’t eligible (https://www.puc.nh.gov/sustainable%20energy/RenewableEnergyRebates-CI.html). This is on top of the Federal Income Tax Credit that one would get on their Federal Taxes which currently stands at 26%.
Q. How can you help me finance my business solar energy system?
Scott: “We’re solution-focused here at BankProv. That’s what makes our approach to your energy project so unique.
We take a holistic approach to the project and the process. We’ll take a look at your electric bill and show how initially you’ll be substituting the debt service on the loan with the reduced (or possibly eliminated) electrical costs. But once the loan is paid off, the generation of the electrical energy continues.”
Q. What are some of the unique elements about financing a renewable energy project?
Scott: “There is a completely new vocabulary when discussing renewable energy projects; it’s like alphabet soup. One of my fondest memories for a borrower that we still work with, occurred several years ago. These two men stopped by my office without an appointment; they asked about meeting with a commercial loan officer to discuss financing a PPA, so I invited them in. They said that they’d found ‘the right bank’ because I didn’t have to ask what a PPA was. (A PPA is a power purchase agreement which is a contract between an energy developer — it could be solar, wind, hydro, etc. — and a buyer of the electricity generated by that facility). It’s the mechanism to monetize the value of the energy generated by a specific facility at a pre-agreed upon price per kilowatt hour. I’ve had to realize that though I knew what the prospect was looking for when requesting financing for the PPA, I can’t be afraid to ask for explanations when dealing with aspects of the project that I am unfamiliar with. We’ve recently started underwriting loans to support battery storage facilities which are a whole new vocabulary unto themselves. Fortunately, I had a good relationship with the developer from their solar work, and they’ve helped me better understand the income sources and how those get monetized. The good part about that is that I’m always learning which, helps to keep me “young.”
Mark Roberts, Managing Director of Power Operations & Business Development spragueenergy.com
Q. How does an energy savings analysis work and what will it reveal?
Roberts: “At Sprague, an energy cost savings analysis typically begins with summarizing your historic energy consumption and costs by commodity (natural gas, electricity, fuel oil, etc.) for a defined time period. This time period should be defined by you and be what is most helpful for your business energy cost planning. For example, the prior calendar year, winter period (typically November to March) or budget year. Once defined, current future pricing for the same time period, commodity and consumption estimates are calculated to determine the savings and/or costs you would incur if you were to lock in a fixed price at that time for a specific usage or quantity. It is important to understand that future market prices are constantly changing, and we will help you understand why these prices have been rising or falling. In addition, you need to consider future changes, timing and longevity that may impact your consumption in the future. These would include investments in conservation measures to reduce usage, operational changes that could increase or decrease your fuel requirements, or any combination thereof.
The purpose of this analysis is to provide your business with an opportunity to better understand how current market conditions could impact your future energy spend and what options you may have to improve or better control these expenditures.”
Q. How does Sprague’s energy purchasing program work, and what are the ways my business would benefit?
Roberts: “Sprague has many energy purchasing programs to assist your business better prepare for changes in energy prices that will most likely occur. We start with discussing all aspects of your energy cost savings analysis reviewed above along with your business and risk objectives. Since energy prices in New England will certainly change like our weather, our goal is to benefit your business by helping you manage and control your energy spend by offering you purchase options and customer service that meets and exceeds your needs.”
Q. What are the different energy price portfolio options available, and how do I decide which is best for my business?
Roberts: “For over 150 years, Sprague has continued to offer our customers a complete line of products and pricing options to meet the needs of our industrial, institutional and commercial businesses. We offer our direct natural gas customers the ability to fix the commodity price of all or a portion of your requirements well into the future. We also offer a variety of balancing programs to control the price of unexpected increases or decreases in your usage, as well as programs that allow you to fix your commodity price over time or lower your price when market opportunities present themselves. We also offer our brokered electricity customers a variety of suppliers, quotes and commercial experience to help secure a contract that best meets their needs. How you decide what program or purchase strategy is best for your business is most effectively determined by understanding your requirements, current market dynamics and the potential cost risks and rewards of the different options and strategies you choose. Sprague will help you better understand these options.”
HARMONY ENERGY WORKS
George Horrocks, Owner and President harmonyenergyworks.com
Q. How would New Hampshire’s Net n Metering (NM) laws affect my decision to go solar?
Horrocks: “The current Extended Net Metering (ENM) rules have both advantages and disadvantages over the prior NM rules. Previously, exact array sizing was critical because the utility companies credited you with your KWh production, netted against your actual usage. You would carry over any excess production as KWh. Under the current ENM rules, your excess production is converted to cash monthly, which means that you not only can offset charges such as KWh charges for the electricity and distribution but other charges, such as the monthly customer or meter charge. Annually, you can also choose to get paid for any other excess. One disadvantage with ENM is that because most of your excess production is during the summer months when rates are lower, you are reimbursed primarily at the lower summer rate. Also, the transmission component is reimbursed at only a portion. All that said — the sooner, the better to go solar. When you go solar, your interconnection agreement is based on the PUC rules existing at the time your application is approved. Lock in today. If and when rules are revised again, they will likely be less in favor of the customer and more in favor of the utility.”
Q. In what ways can I expect a returnon-investment? How will I save, and how much can I expect to save, generally?
Horrocks: “Electricity rates in New Hampshire, on average, go up approximately 2.5% each year — that is 28% over 10 years. During certain periods, such as 2005-2009, rates for one New Hampshire utility went up 5% per year — a much higher rate. So, first, solar is an excellent hedge against rising electrical costs and a hedge against inflation. Most solar equipment today has a 25-year warranty — panels, inverters, racking — so your solar investment is virtually maintenance free. During 2021 and 2022, your cost is subsidized by a 26% Federal Income Tax Credit for your total system cost (including battery storage), along with a $1,000 New Hampshire cash rebate. If you sign up, you will also receive a quarterly payment for the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) you earned by producing clean carbon-free electrical energy — typically about $350 each. For commercial properties, the incentives also include larger state rebates, depreciation and federal grants. Finally, according to a recent Zillow analysis, ‘solar panels raise a home’s value by 4.1%.’ In a nutshell, solar is one of the best financial investments you can make.”
Q. What’s involved in installation? How can I tell if my roof is acceptable, and how do I proceed if I need a roof replacement?
Horrocks: “A trained solar professional can perform a free solar site analysis for you to advise on correct sizing and recommend a roof- or ground-mounted solar array. You should be provided with a projected electrical production that takes into account pitch, azimut and shading. Your roof age and condition should be considered carefully as your solar array is expected to operate for 25 to 40 years. Most installers recommend replacing a roof that is older than 10 years prior to your solar installation. Ground-mounted solar arrays — and especially trackers — will usually outperform roof-mounted arrays. A residential solar installation usually only takes 1-3 days, depending on the size. However, design, permitting, utility interconnection agreements and rebate applications will generally add 2-3 weeks up front, before your installation can be scheduled.”