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The Question

Can You Lease Solar Panels?



If the impassioned, full-page antifracking ad in the New York Times on Mother's Day is any indication, Americans are taking an increasingly personal stake in how their energy is generated. Yet there remains a perception that only those with a significant amount of disposable income can avail themselves of the benefits of alternative choices. With the advent of new leasing options for photovoltaic solar electrical systems, it's time to look again.

Though a true sea-change in alternative energy usage began, perhaps, with 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment tax Act (ARRA), expanding an array of renewable energy incentives, large groups of motivated home- and business-owners felt the risks were still too precipitous for their liking. "Unfortunately, there's this old argument that it's still too expensive, and it takes too long to get the money back," says John Wright, vice president of Rhinebeck-based Hudson Solar (formerly Hudson Valley Clean Energy— "Those objections don't work anymore—you are simply shifting money from the utility company to the lease. It's a game-changer." Despite ARRA's 30 percent tax credit and state incentives like the NYSERDA rebate program, Wright explains that many potential Hudson Valley customers may not have the up-front cash or the "tax appetite" to make it a feasible option. New state legislation now allows for financers (in Hudson Solar's case, financing is actually handled by manufacturer SunPower) to utilize those incentives, and then pass on the savings to customers.

"The process really couldn't be more straightforward," says Jason Iahn, sales manager of New Paltz's Lighthouse Solar ( After a free assessment of your property to determine applicability (getting enough sun is still a prerequisite), the process should take approximately three months. The cost per kilowatt hour that you will pay is assessed according to the anticipated output over 20 years, which is the life of the lease; that energy cost is then locked in, in stark contrast to utility costs that historically rise between 3 and 6 percent annually. Full maintenance and insurance on the installed system is paid for by the financing company—and, if that isn't enough of a draw, if the system doesn't meet at least 95 percent of the projected energy output in a given year, the lessee is refunded the difference.

For those who might be reticent about making the leap into advanced technology, Iahn asserts that the time is, indeed, ripe. "Right now, the equipment is right there, and the stars are aligned to do this," he suggests, citing a 25-year manufacturer's warranty, as well as continuing government efforts to streamline the process. In Albany, Governor Cuomo has declared a "New York Sun" initiative to double solar installation in 2012 and triple them in 2013; in the statehouse, Assembly Energy Chair Kevin Cahill has two separate bills on the floor intended to make leasing even more available. "Consumers clearly understand and want to take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits solar power provides," offers Cahill. "Solar leasing and on-bill financing agreements are the future of the installation industry."

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