Here comes the sun.

Sun Common came to Franklin County this week, making ours the fourth Vermont county to fall under its umbrella of good news.  In their own words:

SunCommon is a local Vermont business that helps Vermonters go solar with no upfront cost and a monthly payment less than their utility bill. Finally, folks can actually save money by doing the right thing.

Launched as a pilot program by VPIRG, Sun Common became an independent business early in 2012 under the entrepreneurial direction of co-presidents Duane Peterson and James Moore. It operates as a “benefit corporation,” which simply means, “for the public good,” and allows the company to preserve a social or environmental mission without violating the responsibility that a conventional corporation has to maximize profit for shareholders.

On Monday morning, joined by community organizers Jessica Edgerly Walsh (formerly of Toxics Action Center), Dan Conant (formerly of VPIRG), and Clary Franko (a North Carolina transplant), Duane Peterson introduced a gathering of about thirty Franklin County residents to how Sun Common is already making solar affordable, and even a bargain, for average Vermonters in Chittenden, Washington and Addison Counties.  

Supporting speakers included St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache, who, as an employee of  the Vermont Electric Coop, has firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing the state’s electric utilities.

Also lending their support were former Democratic Senator Sara Kittell and former Democratic House Rep. Jeff Young.

You’ve got to be pretty darned gutsy to talk solar to Franklin County residents in the middle of February, but,  as far as I was concerned, Mr. Peterson did a great sales job.  

I was more than convinced, and disappointed to learn that the Prent family domicile wouldn’t qualify for the program because slate roofs are beyond impossible.  

Even without a slate roof, not all homes will be suitable for roof-top solar installation.  In order to qualify, a south-facing roof must be available.   Mr. Peterson estimates that roughly 60% of all houses in Vermont could support roof arrays.

That’s okay; there’s good news even for us non-qualifiers; because a collateral benefit of my neighbors going solar will be a lessening of the load on the overall grid…on which my household must depend.  Aging infrastructure and increased demand challenge both the cost and reliability of that grid for all of us.

…And other options do exist, including ground-mounted arrays; and small shared utilities can be created by linking a number of  homes to a single suitable installation.

The objective is to reduce the cost of solar so that all Vermonters can participate.  There are a variety of purchase and loan options, but the idea is that the cost of equipment and installation is distributed over twenty years; and, at minimum, fully offset by savings in electrical bills.  

Mr. Peterson took the St. Albans opportunity to announce that New England Federal Credit Union has just offered unsecured loans at 6% to homeowners who wish to take advantage of Sun Common’s program but have no other option for financing.

Sun Common visits each home, at the owner’s request and free-of-charge, in order to assess the way solar panels can best be utilized to serve that user’s consumption patterns in order to achieve a “net O” goal that holds the cost to a set figure for twenty years, and is no greater than the homeowner’s current electricity costs. In some cases it may be even less expensive.

If I have gotten any of this wrong, I encourage the Sun Common folks to join in here and set me straight.  I was extremely impressed by the presentation and am eager to see the program adopted widely in Franklin County.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

11 thoughts on “Here comes the sun.

  1. Which gives us a couple of advantages:

    1) In those storms where the snow is really white, windblown, sticky ice, we can access the panels to clean them off before the sun reappears.

    2) We can tilt them manually twice a year – up slightly at one equinox, down slightly at the other, which allows us to gather more sunlight.

  2. I’m guessing you meant “Net Excess Generation” – which is when the utility pays you for the amount you generate in excess of the amount you use.

    The amount you are paid is called a “feed-in tariff” – and is usually some number of cents per killowatt hour produced.

    Net Metering refers to a group of people joining together to purchase energy technology (such as solar or wind). It’s often referred to as “community net metering.” Each month, the utility divides the system’s production among the members of the group, then bills each member for whatever power they used beyond their share of the power provided by the group’s tech. Ben & Jerry share a community net metered solar installation, because only one of them had a site appropriate for a solar installation.

  3. I love the idea of a neighborhood or section of a road joining forces to install solar in the most favorable location.  If you’ve ever wanted a pergola in your yard or a simple woodshed, here’s your chance for an added bonus.  Sunshine may be more scarce here in winter, but solar is its most efficient on a colder, clear day (very hot sunny days can actually reduce conductivity).  Best of all, no maintenance or moving parts!

    Or add some passive solar:  If you have a dark room, you might look into installing a Solatube (eligible for a tax credit too).  Our dark kitchen can be brilliant on a sunny day without flipping a switch.  

  4. Homeowners wanting a solar installation can also go to… and find a local installer.

    For financing, VSECU offers low interest solar loans and energy efficiency loans.

    They have a 15 year solar loan at 4.75%.

    There are a number of solar installers in Vermont who have been working in our communities for decades. Suncommon is all shiny and new, but consider hiring the installer next door.

    Whatever you do, consider the fact that solar is now so cheap that you can get an 8-12% return on your money, tax free and insured. Go to your local investment counselor and ask where you can find an investment like that. After he/she spits her/his coffee on the desk go find a solar installer.

  5. Actually, every solar producer makes use of the state’s net metering policy.  Net metering just requires our utilities to allow the meter to spin backwards as a solar system is producing more than a home is using.

    So, all summer the home builds up a solar credit that is then used over the winter.  Our state’s net metering law also requires utilities to pay a premier for ALL solar production – pretty nice!

    Group net metering involves a slightly different permit process, but does in fact allow multiple homes to take advantage of the solar power generated from a single solar system.  Or a farm can hook up all their different meters to one barn-top solar system.

    We’re actually giving a workshop on group net metering next Wednesday, March 6 in Ferrisburg for those of you with slate roofs. has more details.

    Jessica @SunCommon

  6. Simplify – You’re describing the ground mount systems we install to a T!  

    You can tilt them manually with the seasons to maximize production.  Or you can leave them alone and they work pretty dang well at the best average pitch.

    Thanks for the ground-mount shout out!

    Jessica @SunCommon

  7. the advantage of less heat. Panel production drops as temps go up and roof mount tends to be hotter due to the nature of roofs.

  8. But I hope they don’t discourage people who don’t fit the niche from exploring the full range of options available from local installers.

    It would be even better if they would actively refer people who don’t fit their niche to contact local installers.

    Since the primary goal is to get VT off of fossil fuels ASAP, there is not reason not to encourage people to seek local installers.

    Is there a site listing the certified installers in VT? They could hand out a card or flyer to those whose homes aren’t appropriate for their model, with the link to the site.

    Note: I can understand that they wouldn’t want to push those who do fit the niche to look at the competition, that’s just business, but it would be great if they’d support the local economic ecosystem, as well as rapid deployment of sustainable energy, by encouraging non-fitters to seek alternatives.  

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