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What I didn't know about solar power – but should have

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The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which is financed by a small surcharge on the state’s electric utility users, got together with local financial institutions and developed the lease program. The goal is to “…mainstream solar in CT. It is intended to make the ability to install a solar electric system affordable to everyone who owns a home.”

The way it works is simple, and I'll use my current home as an example: A local solar installer from BeFree Solar dropped by one afternoon last week. He looked at my current electric bills and then checked out our barn, where I’d propose installing the panels because it faces directly due south. (The power would be used for both the house and the barn. But the barn's roof is better situated for solar.)

A few days later, I got the analysis. I currently use 7500 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year. As a result, he proposed I install a 6600 watt solar panel system, which should produce, based on my barn’s angle toward the sun, about 8,000 kWh a year. The cash cost of such system: $46,200.00. With state rebate of $10,000 and federal tax credit (about $10,000 as well), that would bring the upfront cost down to $26,000 and that doesn’t include sales tax.

That’s still pretty high for most homeowners.

With the lease program, the upfront costs are zero. The federal and state incentives go to the leasing company, which essentially gives me a fixed rate loan for the remaining $26,000. I pay for that loan with a fixed monthly payment of $99 for the next 15 years.

After that, the company reappraises the solar system, and offers me another five-year lease, which, because of depreciation of the system, is estimated to be around $30 a month.

It does sound too good to be true: no upfront costs, fixed monthly costs that are lower than my current electric bills, and there’s no sales tax on the lease.

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