Make your own careful calculations on solar for your home

— Photo from Christopher Corbett

Christopher Corbett writes that his four-bedroom ranch is powered by a 13-panel solar system generating 3.2 kilowatts.

To the Editor:

Thanks for the article “Residential solar good for wallet, environment” (The Altamont Enterprise, June 6) by Noah Zweitfel. The point of the article is very important on lowering your energy bills and helping the environment.

Readers, however, should be very careful when relying upon reported “averages” and not rule out fully investigating their own situation.

For example, your article reports that, according to “EnergySage,” a 6-kilowatt system is large enough to power a typical home. I question what they consider a “typical home”; many Enterprise readers are energy conscious and very likely have already taken steps to curtail usage with energy efficient appliances and have a conservative approach to energy consumption.

I believe many Altamont Enterprises readers have already cut their carbon footprint with smart energy choices and may not need such a large system.

We have a four-bedroom raised ranch in Albany, which is about 1,700 square feet. Nine years ago, we installed a 13-panel system generating 3.2 kilowatts.  With production banked monthly, we slightly over-generate, or slightly under-generate by several percentage points depending on winter snowfalls.

Our system is about half of the stated 6 kilowatts reported for a “typical home.” All appliances are selected considering energy efficiency, including a top-freezer refrigerator, washer, etc.  We lack central air but have ceiling fans and two window air-conditioners for energy efficiency reasons. Our pool filter is timed to four hours daily. We live a very comfortable lifestyle.

Many readers may well have already cut their carbon footprint substantially; they too may manage with a much smaller system than 6 kilowatts, which would be far less expensive than reported by “EnergySage.” Those that have not could take similar steps, downsizing the number of panels, reducing installation costs and then accurately assessing their economic feasibility of going solar.

A key point not mentioned: New York State’s energy policies will substantially drive up the cost of electricity. This particularly applies to the delivery cost per kilowatt hour.

As more people switch off-grid to renewable sources like solar, the increasing utility costs will be spread over far fewer volumes delivered, therefore increasing the per kilowatt-hour delivery cost further. The utility is entitled to, and will, recover all costs over fewer volumes delivered.

The ratemaking effect is not well understood: The utility is entitled to a “fair return” on its investment and to fully recover all of its utility costs from ratepayers. As customers switch off the system, the costs they leave behind will simply be recovered from those who remain.

There are significant benefits for those who go solar with their own system — and the significant costs they then avoid, must be recovered from full-service customers who remain with the utility.

While going solar is not for everyone — for those able to own their solar, the economic benefits are likely very compelling, as are benefits to the environment.

Christopher Corbett


Editor’s note: Christopher Corbett is an engineer and was employed by the New York State Department of Public Service, Energy Division from 1974 to 2006.

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