Going Solar in the City

The Solarize Philly program is currently in its second phase of signing up Philadelphia residents to group purchase solar panels for their homes at a discounted rate. The deadline to sign a contract is July 31.

Representatives from the Philadelphia Energy Authority and Solar States, a Philadelphia-based solar panel installation company, held a public meeting at Back to Life Urban Sanctuary in Fishtown last Tuesday night for an informational session about Solarize Philly, a citywide program to help all Philadelphians go solar run by the PEA. The program is currently in its second phase of signing up Philadelphia residents to group purchase solar panels for their homes at a discounted rate. The deadline to sign a contract is July 31.

According to Laura Rigell, solar manager for PEA who ran the meeting, the cost of solar panels has reached the point where monthly payments for financing solar panels are “right at or less than” what a house’s typical PECO bill would be.

The PEA selected three installation companies that offered discounted rates for group purchasing. The first was Kensington-based Solar States. The other two are Moore Energy and Kiss Electric, both based in Bucks County.

The first step for all residents interested in going solar through Solarize Philly is to sign up at the program’s website, solarizephilly.com. After that, you’ll get an email containing a questionnaire, which will ask you some questions about your roof, such as how old it is and what it’s made of (Rigell warned that sometimes the email ends up in people’s spam folders). Additionally, you’ll be asked to upload a PECO bill.

Once the sign-up process is completed, Solarize Philly will put you in contact with one of the three installation companies, who will take it from there.

After that, an installation company will come to your house and complete a free solar assessment, where the company will assess your roof and energy usage to determine how many solar panels you would need to power your home, according to Thea Gudonis, the lead solar sales consultant for Solar States, who was also present at the meeting. Then you can decide whether you want to sign a contract. It’s important to realize the deadline to sign a contact is July 31, which means that you have to sign up on the website as soon as possible so the questionnaire and roof assessment can be completed before it’s time to sign a contact.

Once the solar panels are installed, they require very little maintenance.

“Our goal is to install a system and never have to worry about it again,” Gudonis said. “There’s no maintenance. There’s no moving parts up there. It’s literally just a chemical reaction of photons.”

Gudonis said the panels are designed to last for “30, 40, 50” years and will still be about 75 percent their original efficiency in 40 years.

All installations come with a 10-year workmanship warranty.

For those in lower income brackets, a second option is available: leasing solar panels. The lease option entails a 15-year lease term, which is set up to be 20 percent less than a family’s typical PECO bill, Rigell said. When the lease ends, the ownership of the solar panels is transferred to the homeowner.

However, “there are a few other requirements in place that are a little stricter for the lease option,” Rigell warned. “Your roof has to be replaced within the past five years. We usually look for a roof that’s less than 12 or 10 years old depending on the quality of the roof.”

The first phase of Solarize Philly was completed last summer. Rigell said that it greatly exceeded the PEA’s expectations.

“We ran phase one of the program from July to October and we were expecting and hoping for 50 people to sign contacts, but we ended up getting 186,” she said. “We were really thrilled with the response we got in the first phase.”

For this phase, the PEA has only 26 people under contact. They’re looking to get 150 by the end of the month.

As the second phase comes to a close, Rigell said it’s “unclear” whether there will be a third phase.

“Our goal is not to have people relying on PEA to go solar, but really to stimulate the market and get people a good deal going in and then after that the market will continue expanding,” she said.

For more information visit solarizephilly.org.