New York isn’t exactly known for being the sunniest state — but it is one of the best places to install solar panels.
In fact, the state’s been adding solar so fast that it recently broke a record, generating 20% of its total energy from the sun. And that milestone couldn’t have come soon enough, as a 2019 law mandated that the state generate all of its energy from renewable sources by 2040.
“That is guiding what we do at the state, and it’s guiding the evolution of the market,” said Shyam Mehta, the assistant director of distributed energy resources at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). “We’re going to see further acceleration — hopefully — over the next decade and two decades.”
That’s great news for New York residents looking to get in on solar energy. The state’s climate mandates have translated into a bevy of rebates, tax incentives and low-interest loan programs to make solar installations cheaper and easier. CNET named New York one of the top states for solar incentives — and the state ranks eighth in the nation for total installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
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What does that all mean for you? Here’s what you should know if you are thinking about investing in solar panels in New York.
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How to determine which solar company in New York is best for me
It can be overwhelming to sort through the hundreds of solar installers in New York and choose the right one for you. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips for navigating the process:
- Read reviews and complaints: When evaluating public feedback on a certain installer, look for common themes or trends that come up in reviews.
- Talk to your neighbors who have solar panels: The people you know who’ve already installed solar panels can be a great resource. Seek them out to learn more about their first-hand experience with an installer.
- Check licenses and certifications: NYSERDA maintains a list of preferred contractors that can be a great starting point.
- Get multiple quotes and compare: You’ll want to consult at least three installers before you make any decisions.
- Assess potential cost savings: The solar installers you seek quotes from should also help you understand the potential energy cost savings of a solar system. And you can also compare electric grid prices to solar energy prices.
Average cost of solar panels in New York
Your first question is probably how much it would cost to install solar panels. Well, it’s complicated.
“It’s a very considerable range,” Mehta said, depending on where you live, how big the system is and which solar installer you’re working with. And, “if you bring a loan into it, the cost goes up,” because of fees and interest.
Nonetheless, here’s a look at the average cash price for a 5-kilowatt system before factoring in tax credits and incentives, according to data from FindEnergy.com. Expect to pay even more if you get a system with a solar battery.
New York solar panel costs
|System size (kW)||Price per watt||Total cost|
New York solar panel incentives and rebates
Remember that state mandate to decarbonize the electric grid? New York’s many agencies have taken that as permission to offer a huge number of programs that offset the cost of solar installations.
Most of them fall under the NY-Sun program, which is run by NYSERDA. The incentives available vary depending on the project specs, Mehta said, but you can find out which you qualify for by working with a solar contractor.
For households earning less than 80% of the area’s median income, the NY-Sun incentives are even more generous, but require an eligibility application and the completion of certain low-cost energy efficiency upgrades.
On top of that, the state’s solar tax credit allows you to deduct 25% of the cost of a solar installation, up to $5,000, from your state income taxes.
That’s not all. Here are some of the other incentives available in the state:
- New York sales tax exemption: Buying your residential solar system in New York can qualify you for a 100% solar sales tax exemption. You can claim the tax exemption when filing your state tax returns.
- Net-metering: Net metering lets you send your extra solar generation back to the grid and receive credits on your electric bills. Under New York’s modified 2020 net metering policy, if you plan to install solar panels in your home, you can receive a full retail rate for every kilowatt-hour of electricity you send to the grid. However, you must pay a monthly customer benefit contribution charge, which is based on your solar system’s capacity and varies by utility. The charge can range from $0.69 to $1.09 per kilowatt per month.
- Federal tax credit: The residential clean energy credit, a solar tax credit program, is a federal solar incentive that lowers your federal tax burden by allowing you to claim 30% of the cost of a solar system on your taxes. The 30% credit is valid between 2022 and 2032. After that, it will fall to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034, ending in 2035 unless extended.
“If you take full advantage of all of the incentives, it really significantly brings down that upfront cost, in some cases to zero,” Mehta said.
Even if it doesn’t get quite that low, you can also finance the balance of the project through state programs that offer lower interest rates. Some allow for “on-bill” recovery, which uses the savings in your electricity bill to pay back the loan.
Solar financing options in New York
Let’s say you’ve got a few estimates for a solar installation, but you’re still not sure how you’re going to pay for it. Well, New Yorkers have a few options.
Cash: Buying your solar system with cash will allow you to bypass any interest or loan fee payments and instantly begin saving on electricity costs.
Using cash to pay for solar panels requires substantial amounts upfront. But owning a solar system saves you more money in the long term over leasing or power purchase agreement. The average payback period for purchased solar panels is six to 10 years.
Financing: A solar loan is a great option if you can’t afford to buy solar panels outright. The advantage of a loan is that you don’t have a substantial upfront cost and will pay your loan back each month. But fees and interest attached to the loan will be additional costs on top of the principal payment.
Leasing: When you lease solar panels, you enter a long-term contract with a solar company. The leasing company will install a solar system on your home, charge you a fixed monthly amount for using the electricity from the panels and retain ownership over them unless you want to buy out the system in a specified period.
Power purchase agreement: Under a power purchase agreement, a solar developer installs solar panels on your property and charges you a fixed price per kilowatt-hour for the energy generated by the panels over a long term contract. Similar to leasing, the solar company owns the solar panels and receives all incentives.
What sets New York apart from other states
New York has been offering tax incentives and other rebates to encourage solar adoption for decades. But the boost in the last few years is really what distinguishes it from other states.
In the wake of 2019’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, state agencies have gone full speed ahead on making it easier and cheaper to install solar. “The breadth and depth of the state support for solar energy” sets it apart, Mehta said.
Not only have financial incentive programs been expanded, but rules and regulations around solar have been streamlined, with added consumer protections. And that’s not just for residential rooftop solar, but also for commercial, industrial and community solar, according to Mehta.
All of these changes are being made with an eye toward equity too. “We’re prioritizing that assistance to the people who have the highest energy burdens” and those who are least likely to be able to afford a solar installation, Mehta said.
That’s another area where New York stands out: It’s No. 1 in the build-out of community solar projects. “Not everybody can actually [install] solar on site, on their roof,” Mehta said. “That’s where we really excel, to work on providing this option. You can subscribe to the output of a solar project that’s located nearby.” Residents who enroll in this setup are guaranteed a savings on their electricity bills.
If all goes according to plan, these solar initiatives will go a long way toward decarbonizing energy production in the state. “We’re really trying to build a market that’s sustainable, that continually scales,” Mehta said.
Important installation factors
While solar panels can be an attractive investment, especially with rising electricity costs, it’s worth mulling over various factors to determine if solar is the right choice for you. Among other differences, some solar panels are more efficient than others.
- Roof condition and pitch: Your roof’s pitch can make a solar investment easier or harder. Determine whether your roof has the correct pitch to produce enough solar energy. According to the US Department of Energy’s estimates, a 15- to 40-degree angle is optimal for solar panel efficiency. Speak with a professional solar installer to determine whether your roof has enough space for solar panels or if it needs to be repaired or replaced before attaching panels.
- Insurance coverage: Including your solar system in your homeowner’s insurance policy can give you peace of mind. It has added protection in case of an unforeseen natural disaster. Ask your insurance company if your policy will cover the solar system and add it to the insurance once the installation is complete.
- Investment vs. time: Most solar projects make sense as long-term commitments. If you think about selling your house in a couple of years, tying yourself to an expensive investment before it pays itself off may not be prudent.
- Renting vs. owning your home: If you rent your home, you must get permission to install solar panels on your rooftop. Investing in solar panels in a rented house may not make sense since you don’t own it and may need to move in a few years. The best way for renters to go solar is to join a community solar program.