Is Bigger Solar Better?

By Ellie Goldberg
Advocate for healthy children, safe schools and sustainable communities. (

Wondering about installing a solar system? I’ve interviewed local homeowners to learn how and why they decided to go solar, how much it really cost and how much they are saving. How does it feel to be free of electric bills and rate hikes and join others to build a greener future?

Elaine Landes and David Felson live in Newton with large old copper beech trees in the front and backyard.

Is our home right for solar panels?

Elaine is an active member of Mothers Out Front Newton that advocates for clean and renewable energy. Her son Gabe is a sustainability and solar energy professional with eight years in solar engineering, financing, project management and regulatory policy. He advises, “As a society we need to make it as easy as possible to go as fast as possible to install as much solar as possible.”

So, when their son Gabe, encouraged them to consider installing a solar system, Elaine contacted Solar City, a large California based company now owned by Tesla.

Getting Started.

Even though much of the initial process was done remotely, she says “The communication with Solar City was excellent. They were always in touch to let them know what was happening.”

First Solar City reviewed their electric bills to see how much energy the household used. Next, they used satellite imagery to evaluate the roof size, direction and unique roof characteristics.

Elaine and David were impressed with the proposal. Also, Solar City explained three financing options: 1) Buy the panels outright. 2) Lease the panels at no cost for the installation and paying Solar City for the power at a reduced rate. 3) Finance the system with a loan from Solar City at a favorable rate.

Too Many Trees

When they agreed to continue, a Solar City engineer came to do an on-site evaluation and measurements. They learned that they didn’t have enough sunny roof area. Solar panels would provide less than 50% of the energy they needed. There were too many tall trees.

Then they considered putting panels on the garage but it wouldn’t work because of shade and structural issues.

Is your home right for solar?

Google Project Sunroof can provide a quick evaluation and rough estimate of the available square area of your roof and the approximate number of hours of useable sunlight per year. Green Newton advises requesting a free site visit from one of their Newton Goes Solar vetted suppliers to get a more personal determination of your home’s solar potential.

Would solar work on the Cape house?

Elaine and David were very disappointed but undeterred. They wondered if their home in Wellfleet might be a good candidate for solar. They had been paying an average of about $550/year for lights, fans, a refrigerator, a well water pump, and washer and dryer. Solar City proposed a small system of eight panels to provide 110% of the electricity they needed.

The roof had room for more solar panels.

The could have installed more!

Their son Gabe was disappointed. He had hoped that they could install a larger system and use their energy credits from the Wellfleet house to pay the electricity bills for the Newton house. Eversource told Elaine they couldn’t do that because the homes were not in the same district. (A shared system allows more than one household to benefit from the energy produced by one solar array.)

Gabe says, “”Unfortunately, when utilities prevent customers from maximizing their rooftop solar system, homeowners shrink their system and don’t get to produce as much renewable power as they could. They can’t accumulate energy credits or share them to offset costs for neighbors in the same energy district.””

The installation went flawlessly.

In February 2017, the small eight-panel system and the inverter box were installed. Solar City’s monitor works off of their WIFI. “Working with them was great. And from the day I flipped the switch, we have paid zero for electricity.”

After the local inspection and Eversource installed a new meter, Elaine flipped the switch to tun on the system.

Happy Customers

The system cost approximately $7000. There were rebates from Solar City and a federal tax credit that brought the cost down to about $5000. They were not eligible for the state credit because it was not their primary residence but they will be saving more than $550 every year from now on.

Mothers Out Front Newton presents “Use Less, Green the Rest”, a free presentation and discussion that shows how to conserve energy and switch to “green energy.” (https://www. To schedule a program for your friends and neighbors, group or organization, please contact Tish Upton ( or Diane Becker (

Green Newton supports the increased use of residential and commercial solar.

We encourage you to read about our Newton Goes Solar campaign, to investigate solar for your home or business, and to ask questions by contacting us at or by filling out the information request form. For more detailed information on see Newton Goes Solar Frequently Asked Questions