Representatives from Boston Solar, Solarize Mass Plus Needham, and N.E.T.R., Inc. gather to discuss the solar initiatives in Needham. Find out how to rely on solar power and become a net-zero home. Listen or read more to learn about Solarize Mass Plus Needham.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R., Inc. Welcome, Mike.
Mike Cappuccio: Good morning, John. How are you?
John: Good, thanks. I’m also here with David Remillard, Director of Marketing at Boston Solar. Hi, David.
David Remillard: Good morning, John. How are you?
John: I’m fine, thank you. And we’re also here with Donna Vello who is the Co Solar Coach with Solarize Mass Plus Needham, welcome Donna.
Donna Vello: Thank you. Hi, John.
Solarize Mass Plus Needham — an Overview
John: So, Donna, let’s start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about what the Solarize Mass Plus Needham program is?
Donna: Sure. Solarize Mass Plus Needham . . . it’s a contract between the Mass Clean Energy Center and the town of Needham with the idea of promoting solar. And the plus side is that we’ve added in another technology, which is the air source heat pumps that Mike from N.E.T.R., Inc. is providing. And, we’ve also added on the Drive Green program that is through the Green Energy Consumer Alliance.
John: And what’s sort of the focus of the program overall? You want to try to help homeowners to lower their carbon footprint? To lower their energy costs? What’s what’s the gist of it?
Donna: Really, both of those things. The idea is that we will power homes with rooftop solar and homes that can put in the air source heat pumps can be heating and cooling their homes from the rooftop solar. And the third component is plugging in your electric car so you can power your car as well.
Advantages of the Solar Mass Plus Program
John: Okay. So, Mike, what are some of the advantages of this program for homeowners, do you think?
Mike: Well, John, we’ve been involved in a couple of other programs very similar to this. And the advantages to the homeowner is — I mean, I feel if I was a homeowner in the town of Needham — and David from Boston Solar will probably chime in on me with this — is that there’s been a vetted process that us as contractors have had to go through with the town of Needham.
There was an RFP that we had to fill out. It was pretty extensive of multiple pages and pricing that we had to put together on our systems to offer good value, and good quality, and good workmanship, and good working relationships with the homeowners in the town. So, we had to go through an interview process with Donna and the team of people in the town of Needham. David and I both sat in the interview process and showed them what we could do and multiple solar companies, multiple air source heat pump companies were picked to, at least, get an interview.
I would assume probably more of them had actually done RFPs that might not have even gotten an interview process. I don’t really know how that really went at that point. But the big advantage for the homeowners is that they’ve got reduced costs, reduced pricing to them, and the town of Needham has said, “Hey, these are the contractors of choice that we really feel are going to be doing the good job in that town for them.”
John: Right. Donna, does the homeowner have to do both . . . installed both solar and air source heat pumps in order to take advantage of the program?
Donna: No, absolutely not. They could do one, or either, or both.
John: Okay. And then David, tell me a little bit about Boston Solar and how Boston Solar is involved in this Solarize Mass Plus program?
David: Yeah, thanks John. As Mike said, we’ve participated in the Solarize program a couple of years prior, actually next door to Needham in Natick where we had a lot of success. It’s a wonderful program that the state and the Mass CEC came up with because they’re promoting clean energy solutions for the state of Massachusetts.
And so, towns like Needham who are very passionate about it, applied for it. So, they have to go through a vetting process to, and I understand that correctly Donna, so —
David: Not every town becomes a solarized town, but once they did, we felt that it was a very passionate community about solar and it’s going to help the entire state. The success we have in Needham, or hopefully that I’m jumping ahead saying we’re going to be successful, but that’s the goal of really educating people on clean energy, whether it’s solar, EV, air source heat pumps, and Boston Solar is very happy to be participate in this. We’ve been around for eight years promoting solar and it’s still new for some people.
And so, programs like this allows us, Boston Solar, and companies like N.E.T.R., Inc. to really talk to the consumer directly in a focused manner about these technologies.
Using Solar to Power Heat Pumps
John: Mike, can you talk a little bit about how solar power and air source heat pumps work together?
Mike: Well, I mean the air source heat pump runs on electricity. That’s how you’re going to heat your home. You’re going to heat it with an electrical component, which is the compressor that runs outside would be the condensing unit that would sit outside the home. So, without any solar, you’re running that off of the grid. I mean you’re running that off of the power that’s being produced from the street. Putting the solar into the home and being able to use that electricity to now power the air source heat pumps is where we’re going to clean up that grid.
We’re going to try and get off the grid if we can. I’m not saying that it’s going to be done all the time. We know many homes that have air source heat pumps in them with solar that just do maybe part of their home. They might have one air source heat pump in their house with solar panels. They don’t elect to do the whole home. Or they might’ve had an addition done of some sort like that that they put that into.
But we’re going to integrate the two together so they can run together with that. And also we, through the vetting process, one thing that I learned in the interview process was that the town of Needham has a lot of oil heated homes. And right now, with the oil heated homes working in conjunction with Mass Save there’s some very, very significant rebates to put in an integrated controls package along with your oil heat.
I mean, I’ve seen rebates anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on how big the system is and what you’re going to put in. So, the way we would integrate solar, air source heat pumps, and possibly the existing heating system would be, we would offset the original oil heating system that’s there now at a certain outdoor temperature.
So below, say, 30 degrees or 25 degrees, we can let the existing oil heat system run, and above 25 degrees, we can let the air source heat pump run. And we looked at a lot of heating hours in the course of a year. And when you look at the hours of the heating season, 80% of your hours are above 20 degrees. I think about 20% of our hours in the winter time are actually below 20 degrees. So, I mean, that’s how we would come in. We’d put an integrated controls packaging in that would operate your air source heat pump and your oil furnace along with that.
So, like I was saying, I was very surprised that there was, I think there was almost 3,000 homes that were heated by oil in that town.
John: Right. And the advantage of that integrated control system is that you’re using whichever heating system is the most efficient for whatever temperature —
Mike: — Yeah, I mean our goal is to typically get them off of that oil heat. I mean really we want them on the solar and, I mean, on the air source heat pumps. But, some homes that just might not be feasible in, you know, we want to hope that all of them will be, but sometimes that can be a little bit difficult, so.
Rebates for Solar Panel Installation
John: Right. David, are there rebates and things like that available for installing solar panels as well?
David: There are. There’s a federal tax credit, which is 30% right now, but that ends this year. And then it goes down to 26% next year, which is still a great credit that you can take. There’s a state tax credit of $1,000 and then there’s a state rebate program called SMART, the solar mass renewable target, that actually pays the customer for 10 years. For the amount of energy that you use, they’ll pay on a per kilowatt basis. So, it’s a really great time actually to get into solar.
Donna: The amount of power that you generate, isn’t it?
David: The amount of power you generate. Absolutely.
Donna: Not what you use.
David: Yes, generate. Excuse me. Thank you.
Drive Green Program Promotes Electric Vehicle Usage
John: Donna, there’s another aspect to this that you mentioned, which is the electric vehicle program. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Donna: Yeah. We were really excited that the Mass CEC asked us if we would pilot the Drive Green program, which is through the Green Energy Consumer Alliance. So, the idea is to use your solar panels, as I said, to power your cars. So, they have a great program where they have negotiated, pre-negotiated deals, with area dealerships. And basically, they have gone in and taken the haggling away from buying a car.
So, when you can go onto their website and go to the Drive Green program and click around, and click on the cars that you might be interested in, and go to the next screen and you’ll get all the dealers that are selling that particular car for a particular price.
So, you might click on a Chevy Bolt and another Chevy Bolt at different categories, different levels of Bolts, and directly find out which dealers have a partnership with the Drive Green program and what the bottom line price is. It lists out very clearly the list price, and then this discounted price, and then the tax credits and what your final price would be.
John: That’s really nice.
Donna: And it’s a total win-win to have your car being powered by your solar panels. So, the combination of the three technologies really can, you know, bring you pretty close to a net zero energy home.
Becoming a Net Zero Home
John: Right, right. David, when you go into homes and you talk to homeowners, is that something that you hear a lot? That people are really trying to reduce their carbon emissions, becoming net zero home, that sort of thing? Is that one of the reasons that people are interested in solar and these other types of programs?
David: They are. They are more and more, I think you’re finding, especially here in Massachusetts as a reason to get to that carbon neutral or net zero home. Savings also is another reason as a big motivator as well. But yes, we are seeing more and more. People are very more conscious of the carbon footprint that we’re leaving out there.
John: Right. Mike, how can people learn more about this program? This Solarize Mass Plus Needham program?
Mike: Well there is a website right now that’s on the town of Needham. I think Donna could help with that. Where’s that?
Donna: Yeah, it’s actually so . . . the program is a contract between the town of Needham and the Mass CEC, but it is basically being implemented by the Green Needham Collaborative and I’m a member of the Green Needham Collaborative.
So, we have a team of volunteers. So, if you go onto GreenNeedham.org, it’s a website, there’s a Solarize Mass Needham link there. And you can just click on that and sign up. And it’s just for a no-cost evaluation of your home to see what technologies would work on your particular home. And when you sign up, your information will be directed to Boston solar and to N.E.T.R.
Educational and Informational Sessions
John: Right, and Mike?
Mike: Yeah. And then also, if I’m correct saying this, I know we’re in the beginning of a lot of things that are going to be happening within the next few months. One being the 26th —
Mike: Is going to be Meet the Installer at Needham Town Hall. That’s going to be going on. So, you know, homeowners will be able to come out that night. And then there’s another one in October, which is –
Donna: Yup. October 23rd.
Mike: — Is October 23rd. Those are from 7:00 to 9:00 at the town hall. Would love people to come out and get involved in that and see that. But also, on the website, I mean we’re creating links right now, back links where there says air source heat pump. It does say solar and electric cars. Well we’re creating our own landing pages with educational because between Boston Solar and — I mean we have a philosophy of a partnership that we’ve worked together with for many months now and ours isn’t about us going out and selling something. Our philosophy is go out, educate, let’s go out and educate the consumer.
It’s not a sales call, it’s not anything like that. We want to go out, sit down with the homeowner, educate them for an hour, sometimes two hours on, “Hey, this is a technology. Is it a good fit for you in your home?” The second visit is maybe more of, “Hey, you know, do you want to move forward with this or not?” But first visits are mostly all educational visits of what we would do into the home from there.
So, I mean they can either learn more by these websites. We’re going to be having some breakfast meetings as well here in our training center with Boston Solar as well, where we’re going to be inviting people to come here from the town of Needham to come out here and actually see what is an air source heat pump? How does it sound? What does it look like? How big is it? What color is it?
Along with Boston Solar and having them have their solar team here, and their solar panels here, and really having like a one-hour meeting of just letting people really . . . I’m a big believer in see, touch, feel, hear, for the people. As far as getting out to the home and bringing something, and taking it out of a box and then letting a homeowner look at it and go, “wow, well what is that? I’ve never seen that before. It doesn’t fit. I don’t want that on my wall,” or, “I want ductwork now,” or, “I didn’t know that unit was that big going outside next to my shrubs,” Et cetera, et cetera.
So, please come to the meetings, come to the breakfast meetings, come to the learning things. The town of Needham is out now. We’re out with them. We’re going to be doing a lot of events and a lot of flyer handing out. So be prepared. There’s going to be a lot of things going on.
John: Sounds good. And David, I know that Boston Solar feels much the same way as Mike and N.E.T.R. do about education of your customers and things like that.
David: Yeah, absolutely. And when we first were in talks about developing and perhaps partnering with each other over the summer, as Mike had mentioned we have a shared philosophy of that, of educating folks. And at the end of the day, we feel that that’s the most important. We’ve been very fortunate. You probably read a lot about different solar companies coming in and out of Massachusetts.
We’ve been around for eight years. We have nearly 4,000 installs. So, we know our stuff, which is great. And we’re passionate about it and we want to educate people about it. We want a greener Massachusetts.
Solar Mass Plus Outside of Needham
John: Right. Donna, what if I don’t live in Needham? Is there any hope for me? Is this sort of program with Solarize Mass Plus, is this going to be rolled out to other towns and cities?
Donna: Oh, Solarize Mass Plus has been done in many towns across the state and this is Needham’s actually second round of it. We did it in 2014 as well. So yeah. And the Green Energy Consumer Alliance, the Drive Green program is open to anybody. Any person, anywhere. You don’t have to be buying solar or heat pumps. Anyone can just click on and get the best price for an electric car or plug in electric car.
John: Okay. All right. And remind us again where we go to find out more information about the Needham program.
Donna: Just GreenNeedham.org. Click around and I just wanted to say that we’ve been so impressed with both Boston Solar, and N.E.T.R., through the interview process. But since then, as well. We’re kicking off a really fabulous campaign and these guys have been amazing to work with.
Mike: Thank you.
David: Thanks, Donna. We’re delighted to be here. Thank you.
John: All right, Mike, and David, and Donna. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Mike: Thank you, John.