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West Roxbury gets a push to go solar

Posted by Laura Gomez  April 22, 2013 03:16 PM

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Solar-paneled roofs.

A partnership between two energy-saving organizations is examining rooftops in West Roxbury -- not for leaks or moisture, but for potential.

West Roxbury Saves Energy (WRSE), an organization dedicated to helping the community save money and protect the environment, has teamed up with Next Step Living (NSL), a Boston-based residential energy-efficiency company, to push West Roxbury residents to "go solar."

WRSE and NSL have launched an effort to reach out to every resident with a home eligible for solar panels, designed to absorb the sun's rays and generate electricity and heat. The organizations already have pre-rated over 1,300 roofs with solar potential in the area, using aerial imaging programs like Google Earth and Pictometry, and have scheduled more than 75 “solar visits” to homes.

West Roxbury was chosen because of its solar potential and interest from the community, said Joel Rayberg, field sales manager at NSL, which specializes in analyzing homes and making them more energy efficient. The two organizations have had a partnership since 2011. The project is aiming to reach all corners of the neighborhood by July 15.

"We are very excited and pleased by how much interest we have been able to generate in solar panels among West Roxbury residents so far," said Rickie Harvey of WRSE, a volunteer community organization dedicated to bringing information and resources about smart energy use to West Roxbury.

After a consultation with NSL, qualified homeowners are told how much money they could save with solar panels. Costs for installation of the panels vary, depending on roof size and location. According to Rayberg, the long-term benefits outweigh the costs, especially given incentive programs available through the state and federal governments.

"There are countless benefits,” he said. “A solar family can take control of their electricity costs and insulate themselves against market fluctuations. Access to renewable energy can make your home more valuable.”
Environmentally, an average solar panel system can eliminate the production of 18 tons of carbon, equal to driving 36,000 miles.

"Our mission is not only to decrease the dependency we have on fossil fuels, but also to allow people to access (incentives) that Massachusetts provides to help families go solar,” Rayberg said.

The state offers an incentive that includes a 40-cent-per-watt rebate for up to 5,000 watts. Homes valued under $400,000 get an additional 40-cent-a-watt rebate for up to 5,000 watts. This puts the state’s potential contribution towards a solar panel system at about $4,000.

"The big incentive that's really driving the market is the Solar Renewable Energy Credits," said Rayberg, referring to a state incentive that pays homeowners for every 1000 kilowatt-hours produced by a solar array.

Solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into direct current electricity, allowing residents to power their homes and potentially produce excess energy to be used by surrounding homes. In some cases, electric companies will pay residents for the excess power generated.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than 41,000 occupied housing units across the country were entirely heated by solar energy in 2011.

"Our main difficulty is finding roofs that are suitable for solar. We are finding that only around 10 to 15 percent of any community will have solar- suitable roofs," said Rayberg.

Homeowners can see if they qualify by plugging their address into Google Earth and viewing an aerial shot of their home. The ideal house offers a big, flat roof facing south, with an absence of dormers and other shade obstructions.

Those interested can visit to find out if their roof is suitable for solar panels.

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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