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Solar Success in the Northeast by Jon Sharp, Ray Furse & Robert Chew

If you're thinking that only Californians and Southwesterners can reap the rewards of solar energy, it's time to think again. Progressive and workable incentive programs, strong netmetering support, increasing utility rates, and ample year-round solar resources are giving home and business owners in several Northeast states plenty of opportunities to plug into affordable renewable energy.

northeast solar

After California and New Jersey—states with longer histories of support for renewable energy—the Northeast has become the third-largest market for photovoltaic systems in the United States. Solar thermal technologies have enjoyed a parallel surge in popularity—in particular, rooftop collectors for domestic hot water or radiant heating.

SolarWrights, our Rhode Island-based renewable energy company with offices in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, has seen an annual sales volume increase from less than $100,000 in 2000 to more than $5 million and is experiencing continued rapid expansion. Jim Grundy, president of Elemental Energy in East Montpelier, Vermont, reports, "We've had a five-fold growth in sales since 1999." In New York alone, the number of applications for PV system incentives has increased by a factor of 3.5 during the past three years.

So what's behind the northeastern rush to renewables? Favorable economics, says Jonathan Klein, a consultant specializing in emerging technology trends. Klein says that "solar energy still requires substantial subsidies" to compete with subsidized fossil-fuel generated electricity, and "stretching subsidy dollars means focusing on the customers who require the least amount to make solar power a profitable investment." These customers, he says, are the "small" utility customers—homeowners and small businesses—who end up paying the highest rates for utility electricity.

And in the Northeast, it's these small customers who pay some of the highest retail electricity rates in the nation. Paired with progressive incentives, solar-generated electricity quickly becomes an economically viable energy solution for these customers. In fact, when states are ranked in order of the subsidies required to make solar energy break even with utility electricity costs, six northeastern states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine—appear in the top eight, the other two being California (No. 1) and Nevada (No. 3).

Solar electricity is particularly helpful to the notoriously creaky Northeastern electrical grid. As more and more PV systems are installed, the combined generation capacity will help stabilize the utility infrastructure, and reduce brownouts and blackouts during summertime peak loads.

in Any State

How will solar work for you and what might the payback be? Before calling an installer, you can get some preliminary information using one of several online calculators. (See "Cashing In on Renewable Energy" on page 48 for Web site resources.)

Consumers are advised to independently research the support that is available in their own state and to keep that in mind when discussing energy solutions with contractors. For the most up-to-date information about RE incentives, visit www.dsireusa.org.

our dollars spent." According to the Energy Information Administration, average retail rates for electricity in New York have risen about 22% in the past four years—from 13.5 to 16.6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Consumers are experiencing similar trends in other northeastern states. Connecticut Light & Power Company recently requested a 4.6% hike in retail electricity rates starting in 2008—this in a state whose residents have suffered a whopping 90% increase in rates over the past seven years.

Thankfully, these states also have initiated renewable energy goals—of which solar comprises a varying share— as well as differing funding solutions, paperwork, and procedures for installation oversight. SolarWright's founder Robert Chew, who has both written and advised on subsidy program legislation, feels that Connecticut's incentive program for photovoltaics is a good model for the Northeast. Its performance-based approach takes into account the PTC (PV USA test conditions) rating of modules and inverter efficiency, which better reflects real-world PV system production.

By requiring that approved PV installation professionals install systems that are receiving financial incentives, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund is balancing the necessary increase in installation capacity to handle this fast-growing market with maintaining high installation standards. In had eyes for the 9.7-kilowatt grid-

Tech Trends

Mary and Jack Brennan future when they had a tied PV system installed at their Guilderland, New York, home. "We strongly believe in preserving the earth for future generations, and 'going green' is a portion of what we can do to help the environment," says Jack. "Plus, our already-high electric rates will probably go even higher...[so] our PV system will reduce the amount of utility electricity we need to purchase and eventually reduce

PV System Comparison: New York vs. California


PV System Size (KWp)

AC Output (KWH Per Year)

Average Utility Rate ($ Per KWH)



PV System Size (KWp)

AC Output (KWH Per Year)

Average Utility Rate ($ Per KWH)


Capitol region of New York

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