Re: query about photovoltaics (solar panels)
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Tue, 13 Oct 2020 07:39:27 -0700 (PDT)
Bay State Friends —

Cornerstone Cohousing (Cambridge, MA) installed an array of photovoltaics about 
six years ago, and they have been performing successfully ever since.  In brief 
answer to your questions …

ENERGY AS EXPECTED: YES.  Our vendor made detailed projections of what to 
expect from the panels in our specific location, and on the whole, that’s how 
they’ve performed.  The panels provide enough energy to offset the draw of our 
commons (common meters), plus some extra pumped back into the grid.

PAYING FOR THE PANELS:  The entire installation price was around $180K, or 
about $5,600 per unit.  The vendor / installer had to be paid up front.  The 
up-front cash came from a mix of “Angel” loans (loans from a limited number of 
volunteer households), plus cash transfers out of certain savings accounts we 
maintain.  This cash out was supplemented or offset by a grant from the 
Commonwealth, and by one-time household investment tax credit earned by 
households on their annual tax returns.  (I’m obliged to mention that most 
household turned this credit amount over to Cornerstone as agreed, but some 
households could not follow the logic, and did not do so.  The project is a 
financial success, despite this.)
     The loans are being paid back quarterly by income from “SRECs” = Solar 
Renewable Energy Certificates = a national program that subsidizes 
photovoltaics.  We paid off the Angels first, and the loans from our savings 
should be fully restored in another four years or so.  After about ten years, 
the whole installation turns out to be “free”.  NOTE WELL that the grants, the 
credits, and the SREC revenue are all derived from programs that are different 
from state to state, and that morph over time.  Your results may vary.
     One more financial benefit that is sometimes overlooked:  Our common 
electric bill used to be about $6K a year, but now it’s zero.  In fact, when we 
pump surplus power into the grid, it shows up as a small credit accrued to each 
household’s monthly utility bill.

OUR VENDOR:  SunBug Solar, of Arlington, MA.  They were great.  Their full 
service price included engineering, cost/benefit analysis, guidance through the 
applications and paperwork, public relations at the community level, and 
installation; they also do service, although we’ve not yet needed much in the 
way of service.  They also did a retrofit installation for Cambridge Cohousing, 
about a mile from us.  Personally, I recommend them highly.

GRATUITOUS ADVICE:  If you do your system now, as part of your new 
construction, it should be pretty painless.  But if you decide to postpone, and 
maybe do it as a future retrofit, then PLAN FOR IT NOW!  Figure out where you 
will install the array(s), and how many panels you can accommodate; know where 
you will put the inverters; put in the empty conduit you will need for the 
future wiring, etc.  If you plan ahead, and prepare ahead, it will save you 
tons of money and grief.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rphilipdowds [at]

> On Oct 12, 2020, at 10:34 PM, Lisa Wolf <tigerlisa [at]> wrote:
> I'm Lisa Wolf, a member of Bay State Commons Cohousing, which is in the
> process of constructing our new home in Malden, MA. The Eco Committee is
> currently discussing how to make photovoltaics (hereinafter referred to as
> solar panels) happen. We decided to ask other cohousing communities that
> have installed solar panels for electricity about their experiences and
> results.
> Our questions are as follows:
> • Are you getting the expected amount of energy from the panels you have
> installed?
> • How did you raise the money to get the panels? If it was from individuals
> and not the group as a whole, did those people who were willing and able to
> invest in solar get any kind of financial, or other, reward (e.g. a fee
> reduction)?
> • Were you happy with your installer? Any recommendations (or warnings)?
> (This question may turn out to be useful for other cohos in your region.)
> And, I always like to add,
> • What question(s) didn't I ask you here, but should have? (and what are
> your answers?)
> Thank you in advance for your help and time!
> Lisa
> Bay State Commons Cohousing
> Malden, MA
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