Searching for Savings, The Morses are Sold on Subscription Solar

Liz Mahood, originally published on Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

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It was the search for savings that led John and Laurie Morse to solar. They looked into installing solar for their business, then on the roof of their home, but neither worked for them. They finally found a solution a year ago with a subscription solar program, which is providing solar power for their home—at a discount. Here’s their story.

The Morses moved to Tompkins County in 1998, and the next year started their own business, Celebrations Banquet Facility, where they host weddings, and other celebrations. They eventually ‘left [their] real jobs’, Laurie in 1998 and John in 2005, to work at their own business full time. Building a business, as well as raising two children at the same time, motivated John and Laurie to consider the savings that local solar programs offered.

“Nowadays, everything’s expensive,” John says. He and his wife first looked to install solar to power their business. When they started looking for ways to install solar panels at their business, they found “an immense amount of savings from NY state, Tompkins County, and all the other incentives that are out there”. However the numbers didn’t quite pencil out, and they had concerns about installing panels on their building.

 Celebrations Banquet Facility (Photo provided by Rick Bacmanski and Celebrations Banquet Facility)

Celebrations Banquet Facility (Photo provided by Rick Bacmanski and Celebrations Banquet Facility)

The Morses did not end their solar journey there. They next looked at solar for their house, and knew that there were even more incentives available for residential solar installations, but they learned that their shaded, roughly 12-year-old roof was not a good candidate for solar panels. Additionally, the risks that come with roof mounted solar panel installation were on John’s mind: “I get nervous about a bunch of holes in my roof, and about what happens when the solar panels outlive the roof”.

With a traditional installation of solar panels on their property out, the Morses then learned about a new option--Community Subscription Solar, which began to be offered in New York towards the end of 2016. In contrast to purchasing a set of panels on a community solar farm, the subscription model allows residents to sign up to purchase the electricity generated from the farm, often at discounted rates. Driven by the savings and flexibility afforded by the subscription solar model, they signed up for a year’s worth of solar-generated kWh with Blue Rock Solar. Here are the details of their plan.

Although the dollar amount saved varied by the month, their plan offered a guaranteed monthly savings of 10% off of their NYSEG electricity bill. They signed a contract that lasted only a year—a very low commitment when compared to other solar programs. When they signed their contract, they met with a contractor to determine how much electricity to buy in a year. This amount was based off of their annual electricity consumption.

There were no up-front costs with this process. As John says: “We didn’t have to offer a down payment, we just signed up”.  If the Morse’s home electricity usage exceeded their yearly amount purchased through the community solar subscription, they would be charged by NYSEG for this electricity. Similarly, if over the course of the year, they did not use all of the electricity they purchased, they would accumulate this to be used later.

There are a few things that are different about the community solar subscription model. While over the course of the year the Morses will receive the total amount of electricity they have contracted for, they don’t get the same amount each month. Instead they accumulate more during summer months, and draw down the credits during the winter, when there are fewer hours and less direct sunlight. Also, while they continue receiving a NYSEG bill as they are still connected to the grid, they receive a second bill from BlueRock Solar for the electricity purchased. This comes a month after the NYSEG bill.

So what’s the verdict on Community Subscription Solar? For the Morses, it’s clear. As John says: “I like the fact that it saves me money, and the green energy is a nice bonus”.

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Learn more about the Community Subscription Solar model here, including various companies offering the option locally, as well as the two other ways to go solar.