The MA SMART Program – What you need to know

Our team here at Whaling City Solar aren’t just sitting at our desks all day, we’re out in the field talking with homeowners like you! We’ve heard every sort of question about solar asked in every sort of way. We’re going to take some of those questions and answer them right here for everyone to read themselves. Some may overlap, some may be out in left field, but they are all real questions we’ve been asked as verbatim as we can remember them.

Today’s question: “My buddy that keeps telling me to go solar says he’s getting $900 checks in the mail 2 to 3 times a year. Now, my dad got solar and he says that he leases his panels so he doesn’t get the extra checks. So what am I going to get?”

Great question!

I like this one because it touches two different topics:

  • Buying vs. leasing
  • MA State incentive programs

Who gets checks and who doesn’t?

Simple answer here, whoever owns the system gets the incentives. When you lease or enter a PPA agreement with a solar company, you are forfeiting your right to both the federal tax credits and the recurring MA state incentive program. This is the #1 reason we encourage our customers to own their own solar systems with a financing plan if they do not have the funds available upfront.

How much will the checks be for?

Currently in Eversource territory, the Department of Energy Resources will pay a home or business owner $0.07 for each kWh generated by their solar array. That payment will come as direct deposit check on top of any utility bill savings. The checks are sent each month based on automatic readings from the SMART meter (wired into every new solar project), and the program lasts for 10 years from the turn on date of the array. For an 8kW solar array that creats 10,000kWh’s per year, that averages to an extra $58 per month for 10 years just for owning your own solar panels!

What about that friend’s solar checks, sounds like they were larger and less frequent?

Answer here is that our friend installed his solar panels (and wisely chose to own them!) before 2018 and entered into a different state incentive program. maybe SREC II. If you weren’t aware, our MA state legislation has passed a Renewable Portfolio Standard that decrees 40% of utility generated power must be renewable by 2030. In order to achieve those goals, the Department of Energy resources has periodically set aside funds to incentivize the next “block” of solar installations. These blocks can be huge as they cover both residential, commercial and utility scale solar panels.

The major note here is that the incentives continue to decrease over time. The SREC I program paid more than the SREC II program, which both paid more than SMART Block 1. SMART Block 1 paid more than SMART Block 5 does now. Why? Because as long as installations continue at their past 10 year trend line, we’ll hit that 40% on or before 2030. Meaning the incentives are doing their job even at a lower rate.

Put another way, as electricity rates rise and equipment costs fall, homeowners need less and less of a nudge to say yes to buying panels. So should you be a little bummed that you don’t get the same incentives? Not at all. If our friend went solar in 2016, he likely paid at least 20% more in panel costs at the time which are being offset by that extra incentive revenue. Our staff at Whaling City Solar has been doing solar for a long time, and the payback has always been in the 4-6 year range if paying cash and 8-10 years with financing. 150


Incentives have declined over time because the costs have also declined while the baseline return (based on the cost of electricity form the utility) has risen. No matter the solar incentive program that’s active when you choose to install solar panels, it’s best to own the panels and maximize the return. If you’d like to learn more about how the incentives are calculated, or perhaps investigate what level they’re going to drop to next, just ask us! We’ll help explain all the weblinks and spreadsheets that show how that state money makes its way to your bank account.

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