Going Solar on Cape Cod
Last Updated February 14, 2024
By Michael Jones
Michael literally wrote the book on solar (it’s called The Homeowners’ Guide to Going Solar) and has been a solar consultant for over four years.
On the face of it, going solar on Cape Cod might not seem to be a great idea. Despite its reputation as a summer vacation destination, the Cape endures long, cold New England winters. And while most of the postcards show wide open, sun-drenched beaches, most of the neighborhoods where Cape Codders actually live are heavily shaded by trees.
And yet Cape Cod is on the front lines of the climate crisis, a place where rising sea levels and frequent storms are likely to have a disproportionate effect on the fragile ecosystem. And Cape Cod’s residents recognize that going solar is one of the surest ways a regular homeowner can genuinely help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
And since the Cape is located in Massachusetts, a state that has traditionally led the nation in the march towards renewable energy, there are plenty of incentives for going solar on Cape Cod.In this article, I’ll take you through both the benefits and challenges of going solar on Cape Cod. Some of them are typical of the issues you’d face anywhere, but others are very specific to going solar on Cape Cod.
The Benefits of Going Solar on Cape Cod
Let’s not kid ourselves, we are the Cape Cod Solar Guys after all. We’re naturally going to lean toward the idea that going solar on Cape Cod is a great idea. So let’s just spell out a few of the reasons why.
The Weather is Great for Solar
It’s no secret that New England is hardly the sunniest part of the country. But despite the long winters here, the weather is surprisingly good for solar. Cold weather is not the same as cloudy weather and solar panels work perfectly well in winter, even though the shorter days do diminish their production.
Summertime, of course, is even better, and Cape Cod summers are known throughout the world to be fantastic.
So while it’s not Arizona or California, the weather definitely makes going solar on Cape Cod a great idea.
High Electricity Costs
Cape Cod has some of the highest electricity rates in Massachusetts, which itself has some of the highest rates in the country, so it’s not hard to make a strong economic case for going solar. We examine people’s Eversource bills all the time, and it’s not uncommon for us to find rates that are higher than 40c/kWh, and I once found a homeowner in Harwich, who was paying 62c/kWh.
In situations like that, a home that gets good sun and doesn’t need home upgrades could potentially halve their electricity bill by going solar on Cape Cod.
Pro-Solar Political Climate
Massachusetts has some of the most progressive renewable energy policies in the country.
It has a Net Metering program that rewards people for going solar, and state tax incentives that, together with Federal tax credits, can knock tens of thousands of dollars off the cost of a solar system. Going solar in the Bay State is more economical than just about anywhere else in the country.
Cape Cod, of course, is in Massachusetts and benefits from the same generous incentives. Many of the towns here are also starting to get very good about issuing permits quickly so that solar projects don’t get delayed by too much red tape.
While most people choose to go solar to save money on their electricity bill, there is a small but growing number of people who do so because of concern about the environment. And there are few places where that environmental concern is stronger than on Cape Cod.
Here we see first-hand how much beach can be lost to a single storm, how warmer waters attract sharks that make it unsafe to swim in the ocean and how hundreds of homes can be flooded by rising sea levels.
And since many of us choose to live here precisely because of the beautiful environment, we’re perhaps more inclined than most to look for solutions to climate change.
Clearly solar is one such solution and perhaps the biggest reason of all why going solar on Cape Cod is a no brainer for many.
The Challenges of Going Solar on Cape Cod
For all the benefits of going solar on Cape Cod, there’s no denying that the Cape also throws up some unique challenges. As long-time residents and experienced solar pros, we are more than capable of meeting those challenges. So let’s identify them first so that you can know what we may be up against
Older Housing Stock
Like much of New England, Cape Cod’s housing stock tends to be older than most of the rest of the country. It was here, after all, that the pilgrims first landed.
What that means from a solar perspective is that many of the homeowners we speak to about going solar on Cape Cod need at least some kind of home upgrade done before they can move forward. That can either be a new roof, an electrical upgrade or sometimes both.
The cost of these has to be worked into the cost of going solar and, while this can often be done creatively, without the homeowner having to pay anything out of pocket, it’s also possible that home upgrades will disqualify a project from going forward at all.
It’s not a problem that’s unique to Cape Cod, but it is more prevalent here than many other places.
It’s one thing to have old buildings, but Cape Cod has a lot of historic buildings,too, and that brings lots of regulations that are designed to protect the historical integrity of the Cape’s picturesque towns.
Route 6a (otherwise known as the Old King’s Highway) is a particularly tricky area, but the challenges spread far beyond that single road. The Old King’s Highway Historic District covers an area of 80 square miles from Route 6 all the way to Cape Cod Bay and from Sandwich to Orleans
So homeowners wishing to go solar in these towns don’t only have to apply for building and electrical permits, they also need to apply for permission from the historical committee of their local town.
This almost always causes delays and often leads to street-facing solar systems being reduced in size or even outright prohibited for the sin of being “historically inappropriate”.
Lots of Shade
Cape Cod is much shadier than most people realize. While the images of windswept sand dunes and sunny beaches are true, there’s never been a visitor who came here and said “this would be a nice place if only they hadn’t taken down all the trees.”
There are millions of them. And that’s wonderful, of course.
Except when one of those trees is so large and so close to your house that it completely covers it in shade and could split it in two if it were to fall.
This is one situation where solar can be a solution. It’s not uncommon for us to get calls from people we spoke to previously who would never have dreamed of taking down a majestic tree on their property. Now those same people are looking at that same tree with growing concern as we get an increasing number of big storms around these parts.
And yet, big trees are very expensive to take down. Perhaps with some help from your friendly solar company, you can not only remove a threat to the safety of your home but also save on your electricity bill.
While the Upper Cape towns of Bourne, Sandwich and Mashpee are considered by some to be distant suburbs of Boston, the outer Cape is quite a haul from where most of the largest Massachusetts solar companies are located.
So much so, in fact, that the largest of them all, Sunrun, doesn’t even do solar installations on Cape Cod further out than Orleans. Nor do they install on Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.
While local Cape Cod solar companies do a better job of covering the more distant parts of the Cape, the fact that the big players don’t means there is less choice for homeowners and less competition to force down prices.
So if you live in Wellfleet, for example, and don’t have the cash to purchase a solar system outright, you may find it tough to get three competing bids for an attractive PPA.
One of the first things we have to do in order to determine the feasibility of solar on a home is check the power bill to see how much electricity a home uses. If a home is only inhabited from May to September, it can be more difficult to put together an economically viable solar plan.
It can also be difficult to pin down the owner of the property if they live off-Cape for most of the year and prefer to spend most of the time that they are here, fishing or hanging out at the beach.
And yet seasonal homes can be great candidates for solar, particularly if the owner’s primary residence is also in Massachusetts or if the property is used as an AirBnB (renters will crank up the AC all day long without a care for how much the electricity costs).
It’s just more difficult to get the projects over the line if the owner doesn’t live here year-round.
Final Thoughts: Going Solar on Cape Cod
Obviously, the Cape Cod Solar Guys are going to be a little biased in favor of going solar on Cape Cod, but we’re not oblivious to the challenges either.
The Cape is a truly unique place in many ways, so it should come as no surprise to learn that the Cape Cod solar market also has its own unique features.
It’s our job to help guide you towards making an informed decision about embracing solar power within this unique market context.
If you’ve been thinking about going solar and would like some expert guidance without the typical sales pressure, let’s set up a time to chat. We can walk you through the benefits and the challenges of going solar on Cape Cod.
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