Aminata Sandra Calhoun has been trying since 2016 to have solar installed on her three-story, redbrick Parkside home but could not find the right contractor or price.
On Wednesday, a crew of installers was climbing up ladders along the back of the house to install 10 panels for what she calls her new “solar soul” energy source.
“It’s not just a good morning; it’s a grand rising for me,” Calhoun said. “I am just excited, happy ... that I am finally getting solar on my roof.”
For almost five years, Philadelphia has offered a program that lets residents purchase reduced-price rooftop solar installations with consumer protections through vetted contractors, and about 830 homeowners have participated.
Now, the city, through the Philadelphia Energy Authority, is launching a lease program for residents to install rooftop solar at no upfront cost. Though residents won’t own the installations, they’ll pay a slightly lower-than-Peco rate for their electricity, with a guaranteed locked-in rate even if energy costs keep escalating.
Calhoun is one of the first participants in the new lease program, which adds an affordable way into solar. She expects to save initially about $100 a month on her electric bill and to spend nothing some months.
“This is the first time we’ve had a lease option where you don’t have to actually take out debt in order to have solar,” said Emily Schapira, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Energy Authority, an independent city authority. “We negotiated special features to make sure it was easy to get behind.”
The leased systems are part of SolarizePhilly, a group buying — and now leasing — program administered by the authority with the goal of making it easier to install solar while supporting job training and giving residents with low and moderate incomes access to renewable energy.
Schapira said the lease includes a fixed price of about 12.8 cents per kilowatt hour, less than the current Peco price of 13.2 cents, and would be protected against price rises. A meter monitors electricity generation at the home, and any excess power the solar panels generate is automatically credited to the homeowner’s bill.
“So it’s a pretty sweet deal in that regard,” Schapira said. “The price never escalates. That’s your price for the next 20 years for the solar that you produce on your roof.”
Residents can purchase the system at the end of 20 years or renew the lease. However, the panels have a life of about 25 to 30 years. With a renewed leas e, the homeowner would get new panels.
The energy authority already works with several contractors for the solar purchase program. It has arranged a deal with PosiGen Solar, a solar provider operating in five states, to install the leased equipment.
PosiGen owns and maintains the panels, while receiving a 26% federal Investment Tax Credit.
In addition, the energy authority has agreed to purchase Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, owned by PosiGen. SRECs are awarded for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated by a solar system. The money for the energy authority to purchase the SRECs comes from a program fee charged to solar installers.
“PosiGen is prepared to have a long-term relationship with all these customers,” Schapira said. “They’re trying to get as much solar as possible on low- and moderate-income households. And so they’ve been able to attract investment in their company.”
Beth Galante, a vice president at PosiGen, said during a news conference announcing the program that her company has performed 20,000 installations.
“We’ve been working for three years to figure out a way that we could come and work in the city of Philadelphia,” Galante said.
PosiGen will work with the nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency to weatherize homes getting the leased systems.
SolarizePhilly is also continuing its solar purchase program. The Energy Authority negotiated below-market prices through group discounts given by installers and equipment distributors on systems owned by homeowners, rather than leased. The authority ensures that the selected installers are reputable, contracts are standardized, and the equipment is high quality and warrantied.