Community Solar Popularity

An increasingly popular way to reduce energy costs is called community solar. This simply means having your utility deliver your electricity from a solar farm rather than, say, a coal power plant. Subscriber numbers are hard to find, but our conservative estimate is over 200,000 homes and businesses are already saving with community solar.

Community solar is popular for three main reasons. First, savings on energy costs are guaranteed by state law. Companies that sell community solar often advertise 10% savings, but actual energy bill savings are more like 8%. Second, participation is easy, requiring only online paperwork that takes 10-15 minutes to complete. Third, community solar supports clean energy. Cheaper and cleaner energy that’s easy to get–who wouldn’t want that?

Actually, there are several concerns with community solar. First, the time between signing up and seeing savings on your bill can be many months, sometimes over a year. If there’s a line, you have to get in it. Second, billing is more complicated. Your utility still sends you a (much smaller) bill, then your community solar company bills you the rest separately. While the two together are usually less than the utility bill would be, it’s hard to be sure. Third, community solar prices rise along with utility power prices. So your overall savings will be significantly less than, say, owning rooftop solar, where you lock in a low price for 25-30 years.

Another problem is that community solar rules vary a lot by state. While 23 states have community solar laws, a much smaller number have well-functioning programs. Also, some states have better community solar programs for small businesses and some for residential. (Community solar is rarely a good solution for energy bills over $2500/month.) Based on Sustaine’s energy experience, here are the best states for community solar.

1MassachusettsNew York
2New YorkMassachusetts
Best states for community solar for both small business and residential customers.

Overall, community solar is an easy way to save at your home or small business, plus get cleaner energy, so it’s increasingly popular. It does have some drawbacks. To see if community solar is the best fit for you, visit Sustaine’s online energy expert. It’s fast, free and simple.

Federal Energy Incentives Abound

Rural energy projects

We’ve never seen clean energy incentives like these. The Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022 is a $360B climate bill. The goals mandated by the bill are actual programs now–and money is starting to move rapidly to businesses, non-profits and individuals for renewable and energy efficiency projects. In fact, savings of 20-40% compared to traditional grid power are common. (!) Let’s look at just how rich these incentives are, and for whom.

Top of the list are $1B in “REAP” grants from the Department of Agriculture, which pay 50% of the cost of a clean energy project for any rural small business. “Rural” means less than 50,000 residents. “Small” is complex but generally requires under 500 employees. Effectively, REAP grants create 20-40% savings compared to buying traditional power from the grid. REAP grants are competitive, with a 15% scoring bonus going to projects in economically depressed zones. In sum, REAP savings are tremendous–if you qualify.

Right behind REAP grants are clean energy tax credits. Any business or individual completing a clean energy project gets a 30% credit toward their taxes, and if you’re in a low-income area it’s 40%. Non-profits that don’t pay taxes can get a direct payment from the IRS for the same amount. While we’re not tax experts, we’re told that tax credits apply to the balance remaining after a REAP grant. So the two together can pay for 65-70% of a project’s total cost!

Eligible projects are many and varied. Renewable energy projects like solar panels, solar heating or combined heat and power all qualify. So do efficiency projects like heat pumps, production equipment upgrades, HVAC controls and insulation. Energy storage projects also qualify. For now, it’s almost everything.

Acting quickly is key. The current REAP grant program is for only another 13 months. More money is allocated after that, but nobody knows how the rules will change. Moreover, as more people hear about REAP grants, competition will increase and they’ll be harder to get. Also, solar tariffs are again looming for late 2024, which will push prices up and slow projects down. Finally, these incentives may impact government receipts at a level much greater than anticipated, causing policy-makers to pull back.

Bottom line, energy incentives today are unprecedented–which makes now the right time to apply them to your business. A quick and easy way to start is with a free Energy Scorecard from Sustaine. By matching your energy bill to all available incentives, you’ll see how to get your greatest energy savings.

Turn an Expense into an Investment

Are you weary of paying an electric bill for your business or non-profit, month after month?

Many non-profits and businesses are turning this recurring expense into an investment. Rather than giving money to the utility every month, they’re using the same money–actually less!–to create their own energy asset. Here’s how it works:

  • Federal subsidies pay 30-50% of the cost of most renewable energy assets like solar, batteries or cogeneration. The balance can be easily financed. 
  • In addition, you get credits on your electric bill for every unit of energy your  asset generates.
  • The result: Your remaining electric bill plus debt service costs LESS than your current electric bill! Savings of 10-30% per month are common.

This is happening all over New England and New York, and in many other states, too. Will it work for your business or non-profit? Let’s find out.

Sustaine can provide a free customized analysis for your business. You can see how easy it is in a short video. Then contact us to start your free analysis today.

Mighty Heat Pump Incentives

Does your business have heating or cooling equipment nearing the end of its life? If so, state incentives can make a huge difference. The best incentives tend to be for heat pumps, which are highly efficient and run completely on electricity:

  • MA will pay up to $2500/ton. That’s about 85% of the cost of a new heat pump–practically free!
  • Some NY utilities pay up to $800/ton.
  • Maine’s rebates vary widely but $1600/ton for a small business is common.
  • Other states have lesser rebates, but still appreciable.

Heat pumps use the compression / expansion cycle of a trapped gas to generate alternate warmer and cooler air, just like an air conditioner. In the summer, the cooler air is pumped into the building, and the warmer air dumped outside. In the winter, it’s simply reversed. Today’s heat pumps heat reliably even below 0℉

If you need to replace a rooftop unit or similar equipment, state rebates can make a huge difference. They’re very confusing, though. Even worse, if you don’t do things in the right sequence, you won’t be eligible. Please contact Sustaine if you need help. We can sort through your incentives at no cost.

Whatever you do, don’t wait too long–the best incentives apply to installations completed in 2023! 

Persistently High Electricity Costs Unrelated to Supply Chain Woes

While most small-medium businesses struggle with supply chain disruptions and higher costs, they’re also dealing with higher electricity prices. Across the U.S., electricity costs at least 20% more than it did a year ago. In some places it’s 80% more. Why?

As we related in January, natural gas drives electricity prices. Natural gas exports from the U.S. in 2021 shot up 50% compared to the year before. This is partly price-driven, because natural gas prices in Asia and Europe are always higher.

But there’s more to it than just prices. To sell to those faraway markets, the gas has to be liquified and transported in tankers. Liquifying gas requires huge and expensive facilities, and in the last 5 years the U.S. has built SEVEN TIMES more export capacity.

As a result, we’re now the world’s largest gas exporter–which pushes up domestic electricity prices. This upward pressure will be with us for years, because more export capacity has been built and even more is being built.

The silver lining is that renewable energy–already cheaper than fossil fuels for large companies–is now cost-effective for small-medium businesses, as well. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.

Lower Bill, Stronger Brand

How can you win more customers and simultaneously save money? We’ll show you!

Large businesses are getting cheaper energy that happens to be cleaner. They’re using “cleaner” to engage more customers, win more contracts and even attract more employees. Now, small-medium businesses can do it, too.

It’s all about finding your best-fit solution, and adjusting your branding and marketing. You can have it all!

CEOs Meghan Lynch of 6-Point Creative and Malcolm Smith of Sustaine are excited to show you how in 30 short minutes. You’re invited to register for this free webinar on Wednesday, March 2, at 12 noon ET. Please join us!

Register here!

Triple Win For Small Businesses

Increasingly, businesses are recognizing a triple win with renewable energy. First, renewables provide a win for our world by reducing the ravages of climate change. Second, the business wins by reducing its energy costs. In most places, renewable alternatives now cost LESS than fossil-fueled power. (Here’s why.) Third, renewable energy provides a marketing advantage. It is helping both B2C and B2B businesses win more and better customers.

Let’s drill down on that marketing piece. It applies whether a business sells directly to consumers or primarily to other businesses. Recent data shows that 88% of consumers want the companies they purchase from to help them be more sustainable, so they are attracted to businesses that use renewable energy. Businesses, too, are looking to their supply chains for sustainability. In fact, 65% of businesses include a sustainability metric in their purchasing decisions. B2B or B2C, cheaper and cleaner energy means more business, too.

Of course, renewable energy is available in many different forms. Large companies hire expensive consultants to figure it all out for them. Sustaine has written software that does the same thing for small businesses. Now they, too, can realize their best energy solution–and secure their triple win. Here’s how easy it is.

Electric Rates Are Up — To Stay

Fossil-fired electricity prices went up significantly in the last six months of 2021 across the entire U.S. In California prices went up 37% year-over-year. The Midwest saw a 97% rise. You get the picture. Even worse, the increases are here to stay.

How can this be? Natural gas prices drive electricity prices, and gas is much more expensive now. That’s partly a post-Covid shortage, but it’s more a result of natural gas exports. Large gas-exporting facilities recently came online in the U.S. Now large volumes of domestic gas are being sold to pricey Asian and European markets, rather than captive to domestic consumption. In other words, local natural gas prices are now linked to higher world prices. The infrastructure has been built, so the linkage is here to stay.

US natural gas exports to higher priced foreign markets are up 700% in 5 years. They will go higher in 2022. Natural gas is the marginal fuel for electricity, which means that natural gas prices set electricity prices. 

How to respond? There are two basic ways to reduce energy costs. One is to access cheaper renewable options. The other is to use less energy by increasing your efficiency. Most states have incentive programs to help. But they are as confusing as they are plentiful. To sort through the complexity, Sustaine’s free Energy Scorecard is a great place to start.

Maine Energy Costs Going WAY Up

If your business buys electricity from Central Maine Power, prices for all of 2022 are up a whopping 82%. (Compare same month prices in 2022 to 2021.) If you’re in Versant, it’s 77%. Ouch!

If you’re buying power from the utility, brace yourself. (For help, see below.) Bills arriving in February – April will be about TWICE as much as last year. After that, the increase is only 25-30% for the rest of 2022. Not good news.

How can this be? Much higher exports of natural gas are the root cause, as we explain in another post.

What can you do? Plenty. In Maine you actually have a lot of options to manage electricity prices. In fact, there are so many choices (Maine has 44 different energy programs ) that it gets confusing quickly. Regardless, the best way to control energy costs–and this is key–is to move away from grid-based fossil-fueled electricity. A great place to start is with Sustaine’s free Energy Scorecard. From a single bill, Sustaine’s software ranks all the options for a given facility, revealing which option provides the greatest savings with the least effort. This includes renewable options as well as efficiency and competitive purchasing.

Indeed, if you’re already purchasing electricity competitively, you may be sheltered from the worst for 2022. Regardless, look now at multi-year competitive pricing. And if you’re supplied by CMP or Versant, let’s look right now: The worst prices are in the first quarter of 2022. Now is the perfect time to act.

Here’s more good news: Most solutions are available with no money down. Near-term solutions like competitive purchasing and community solar won’t cost you anything. In fact, even long-term solutions like onsite solar and efficiency improvements include financing. You’ll realize net savings from the very first month. So what are you waiting for?

If you’re ready to take control of your energy costs, and push back on CMP and Versant with their 80% price increases, it’s easy with Sustaine. Let’s get started.

Energy Scorecard: Sneak Peak

Sustaine’s unique and powerful software generates a customized Energy Scorecard from a single utility bill. The Scorecard reveals which of your energy options will deliver the most savings with the least effort–and it’s absolutely free.

Sustaine’s software reveals where the savings are. Our value-added service (also free!) secures the solution via competitive bids and delivers the savings to you.

To get your free Energy Scorecard and realize easy energy savings, simply contact Sustaine. We’re here to help.