7 Steps to Solar Panels in Massachusetts

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Massachusetts is ranked 10th in the nation for solar adoption.1 This is surprisingly low, given how valuable panels are in the area. Residents typically pay significantly less for their systems than residents in other states and save an average of just over $33,000 by converting.

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Of all the states in the country where you’d expect solar to be worthwhile, the Bay State may not be at the top of the list. However, nearly all Massachusetts residents find that solar is worth it.

The upfront cost of converting to solar in Massachusetts averages around $19,110, although that number after federal incentive programs and solar rebate programs are considered drops to around $13,377. This is well below the national average and can be less after the state tax credit.

The unusually high electricity costs in New England mean that solar is particularly valuable in the Bay State, saving thousands of dollars a year on energy.

In the following sections, we’ll walk you through the process of converting to renewable energy step by step. You can also use the links below to skip to a specific part of the process.

Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract

Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO)

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy

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Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels in Massachusetts

Although buying photovoltaic (PV) panels is more affordable in Massachusetts than in most other states, the total initial cost still pushes close to $20,000, so it’s a sizable investment. As such, it’s important to consider your options carefully before deciding if solar is right for you. We’ll include some of the most important things to think about in the sections below.

Research If Solar Panels Are a Good Fit For You in Massachusetts

First off, while solar adoption is wildly beneficial for most Bay Staters, you should make sure that it makes sense for your specific budget and property.

You can begin your research by looking at how valuable solar is in the state as a whole. Then, you can use our solar calculator to figure out how many panels you need to offset your energy demands.

This should give you a good idea of how valuable your system will be in comparison to others converting to clean energy in your area. If your required system size is well above the local average of 6.5 kilowatts (kW), then you can assume that your panels will yield fewer savings and be less valuable overall.

Next, you should consider local weather conditions and the average sunny days per year in your city. The state as a whole sees around 197 sunny days per year, but that number can vary based on your location within the state and your proximity to the coast.2

Since solar panels don’t produce as much power in cloudy conditions, a significantly lower number could mean lower solar viability in your area.

Consider Net Metering

Normally, aspiring solar customers need to consider their net metering policy as well. Net metering — also called net energy metering or NEM — is a billing policy that provides bill credits for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar electricity you overproduce and send to the grid.

NEM programs help solar customers save significantly more money over time, so it’s a crucial part of the puzzle when it comes to figuring out how valuable your PV system will be. Thankfully, the Public Utilities Commission in the state mandates net metering at the full retail rate for all utility companies, so you can rest assured that the NEM policy will maximize your solar value.

For example, whether you’re a customer of National Grid, Eversource or one of the smaller providers in the state, you’re guaranteed to have access to NEM and to get the full retail rate for energy credits on a per-kWh basis.

The chart below includes some figures, solar statistics and average costs and savings in your area as they compare to the nationwide averages. This comparison shows exactly how cost-effective solar is in Massachusetts for most residents.

Alabama State Average United States National Average
Solar Power System Size Required 6.5 kW 9 kW
Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment $2.94 $2.66
Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit $19,110 $23,940
Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value $5,733 $7,182
Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit $13,377 $16,758
Average Panel Payback Period 8 years 12 years
Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar $33,103 $22,379

Most importantly, the period for your panels to pay themselves off and start producing a real return on investment (ROI) in your area is 75% of the U.S. average. Additionally, the expected lifetime solar savings in MA are around 150% of what most U.S. residents will see.

Research How to Finance Solar Panels

Once you confirm that solar is as valuable for you as it is for most residents in your area, you can move on to figure out how to pay for your equipment. Although the cost to convert to solar in Massachusetts is well below average, the total still sits close to $20,000 before federal and Massachusetts solar incentives, so you have some research to do and decisions to make.

First off, you’ll need to figure out what size solar system you need. You can use our solar calculator to get an accurate estimate of how many panels you’ll require to offset your energy needs. Next, you can take the total size in watts and multiply it by the average cost per watt in the state, which is $2.94. This will give you a total cost estimate for your system.

Remember: this number is likely to be high, but don’t get discouraged. First off, solar conversion will save you far more money on electric bills in most cases, which is one of the biggest pros of solar adoption. Plus, local incentives are available to help you reduce your effective costs.

You have four solar financing options to choose from, which we’ll explain briefly below:

  • Cash purchase: With a cash purchase, you pay for your entire solar panel system at once prior to connection. Of course, this comes with the highest initial cost, but it provides the lowest long-term cost and the highest overall savings. Additionally, you can take the federal investment tax credit (ITC) when you pay in cash, which you can’t do with all payment options.
  • Solar loan: A solar loan program is a financing option where you pay a small amount upfront — sometimes nothing — and pay back the loan with interest over a longer period — usually up to seven years. The interest will cut into your overall savings and bump up the total system price, but it makes converting to clean energy more accessible. This option also gives you access to all Massachusetts solar incentives.
  • Solar lease: A lease is a rental agreement for PV equipment installed on your home, but you get the benefit of using or storing all of the energy the solar system generates. There are no initial solar panel costs, and it doesn’t come with the same credit score requirements that a loan does. However, savings are lower over time, and you cannot take the federal tax credit if you lease your panels.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA): In a power purchase agreement, you get panels installed at no initial cost, and you agree to purchase the energy they generate, usually at a rate that’s lower than what your utility company charges. PPAs have the lowest savings and don’t give you access to the ITC. However, they’re the most widely accessible option and have no down payment requirements.

The state also offers Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, which is an alternative to traditional financing.

This program is made available to low-income residents by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and includes a charge on your tax bill to cover the cost of the equipment over time. In most cases, the charge is lower than what your monthly electric bill would be.

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a payment option is the payback period. The shorter the payback period, the greater your long-term savings will be. Note that leases and PPAs don’t have payback periods, as they don’t lead to system ownership.

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

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Credit: Biker_Becca / Pixabay

After you confirm that solar is a good option for you based on estimates for the size and cost of your system, you’ll need to start getting quotes to get actual system prices. We’ll walk you through the process of choosing an installer and get quotes below.

Picking a Solar Installer

Choosing an installation company to handle your home solar conversion seems like an easy thing to do, but it’s one of the most crucial parts of the process to get right. The installer you choose will, in large part, dictate your entire experience, from the initial consultation to the installation and beyond.

Below are some of the things we suggest looking for in a solar contractor to ensure you get a reputable installer:

  • Positive customer reviews and no unresolved complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
  • At least five years of experience in the solar industry.
  • Quality equipment brands and affordable pricing.
  • Financing options that match what you need.
  • Good warranty coverage
  • Team members with certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)

According to the SEIA, there are around 140 solar companies that serve the state, which can make choosing the best one for your solar project all the more difficult.3 Below are some of the providers that serve your area that we recommend:

You can get more information about these providers and some insight into why we recommend them by checking out our guide to choosing a Massachusetts solar panel company.

What to Expect After Requesting a Quote

After you give your contact information to a provider, a sales representative will connect with you to schedule a consultation. Most consultations are virtual, but many companies offer in-person meetings as well. Before the consultation, you’ll need to provide a copy of a recent energy bill.

During the meeting, your rep will ask you questions about the equipment in your home that uses electricity, like heating and cooling equipment and appliances. They will explain the process to you and discuss a rough estimate for the size system you need. They should also schedule an in-person property inspection for roof measurements.

After the consultation, another representative will design your system based on your property and your energy demands. The design will be used to draw up a solar proposal, which provides a complete snapshot of your proposed system. The following information should be included in your proposal:

  • System prices before and after solar incentives.
  • The size system you need, including how many panels will be required.
  • The brand of panels to be installed and a diagram of where they’ll be installed on your roof.
  • Detailed plans for where other equipment will be mounted, including wiring, inverters, battery storage solutions and any other add-on products you choose.
  • How much electricity your panels will generate and what you’re expected to save annually.
  • An estimate of how long it will take those energy savings to pay off your system.
  • An estimate of how much money your panels will save you over the lifespan of the equipment.
  • Information on fees for building/electrical permits and inspections.
  • Information on your payment option and when funds will be due.
  • An estimated timeline for panel installation.
  • Warranty information.

Getting through this process can be a bit time-consuming, but we recommend you go through it with a few providers. Having three or four quotes will make your decision easier and provide you with options for costs and equipment quality. Additionally, some providers will offer to price match, which means having multiple quotes could save you money.

Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories

In the process of getting solar quotes, you should also consider any add-on products you might want to be installed alongside your panels. Below are some of the options that are most popular in your area:

  • Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers: EVs are becoming increasingly popular in the state, and local news sources note that their numbers will continue to grow in the area.4 As the transition to EVs continues, more and more homeowners will want to install EV chargers at home for convenience, especially since charging via solar power can be free.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades: Massachusetts residents use a relatively small amount of energy, but they pay more per kilowatt-hour (kWh) than homeowners in nearly every other state.5 As such, many solar customers couple their conversions with energy efficiency home improvements, often offered by solar contractors. These include things like replacing windows and doors, upgrading insulation and roofing material and installing solar water heaters to keep energy costs down.
  • Solar batteries: Solar batteries are another somewhat popular option in Massachusetts. These can provide power through common power outages, and they also provide access to effective net metering. Currently, the state mandates NEM, so batteries aren’t required to keep utility bills down, but that could change in the future and cause batteries to become far more popular.

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Rooftop solar panel installation
Credit: Chrischesneau / Pixabay

When you find an installer that you trust that provides a solar quote that fits into your budget, you can move forward by signing a solar contract with that provider. In the following sections, we’ll discuss a few things you should think about at this stage that will help you get the terms and conditions that are most beneficial to you.

How Do Solar Warranties Work in Massachusetts?

One of the most important things in your contract will be the solar warranty coverage, as this dictates the kind of service and protection you’ll get after the installation process is completed. There are three types of warranty coverage to keep an eye out for in your contract:

  • Labor or workmanship warranties: Workmanship warranties last for an average of ten years and cover issues that stem from improper installation techniques. These often don’t include roof leak coverage, but those that do are great to have, especially since the average annual rainfall in Massachusetts is around 1.5x the average in the rest of the country.6
  • Equipment warranties: Equipment warranties last for an average of 25 years and cover manufacturer defects in your panels and inverters. These are helpful for ensuring you don’t get faulty equipment.
  • Production or efficiency warranties: Production warranties guarantee that your panels will maintain a certain percentage of their original efficiency over the warranty term. The typical percentage guaranteed is 80%, and the typical term is 20 to 25 years.

When Can I Expect Solar Service to Go Live?

From the time you sign your solar contract to the time your system actually starts generating power for your home, you’re looking at a wait time of between two and four months. This is just an average timeframe, and yours may vary based on a few factors, including the following:

  • Delays from your installer due to high demand.
  • Delays from your building department if they are backed up with permit requests and inspections.
  • Delays due to manufacturing wait times — this is mostly an issue for some add-on products, like Tesla Powerwalls, which can be back ordered for months.

Solar Panel Permits in Massachusetts

All municipalities in Massachusetts require building and/or electrical permits before PV panels can be legally installed. The permits come with a filing fee and sometimes a review fee, which total between $100 and $350 in most cases. The specific charge for your system will depend on your location, but the number should be included in your solar proposal.

For example, the City of Plymouth has a solar installation permit fee of $10 per kW installed, with a minimum charge of $200.7 Given the average solar array size of 6.5 kW in Massachusetts, the typical fee will be $200. The city has a separate charge of $10 per kW (with a $200 minimum) for solar storage solutions. If you install two or more Powerwalls at 13.5 kW each, you’re looking at $270 in permit fees for the batteries alone.

Boston requires an electrical permit for solar installation, which comes with a $20 filing fee plus a $10 fee for every $1,000 worth of work performed. Given the average system total in Massachusetts, the typical permit fee in Boston will total $210.

Your installer will usually handle the permit application process for you, so you won’t have to fill out any paperwork. The fee will be charged to you in the total system price and should be reflected in your formal quote.

Solar & Utility Interconnection

Interconnection is what allows your solar energy system to interact with the electric grid, and it allows energy to flow back and forth between both. This gives you access to both NEM and the highly beneficial Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target or SMART program, which is similar to solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) programs in other states.

Interconnection requires an application to be filed with your electric company, as well as an inspection done by someone from the provider.

For example, National Grid requires an interconnection application form and a $28 application fee to be connected.8

Eversource has two interconnection application forms. One is the simplified form, which comes with no application fee, and one is an expedited form, which comes with a fee of $4.50 per kW with a minimum fee of $300.9 Given the average size system in Massachusetts, the fee for filing the expedited form will total $300.

Unitil has an online application that is free of charge, but the company requires your building inspector to sign off on the installation before you can be connected to the grid.10

You can check with your electric company for interconnection application forms and inquire about application fees. In most cases, your installation company will handle the application for you, but much like with solar permits, you’ll be on the hook for the application fee if there is one.

We should mention that applying for interconnection can cause some minor delays in getting your system up and running. However, we still strongly recommend applying, as interconnection is required for net metering. Net energy metering is especially beneficial in your area, given that the electricity rates are well above average.

Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day in Massachusetts

Your installer will schedule a day for the installation, which may get pushed back if the weather is not conducive to being on the roof safely. If the weather isn’t an issue, your installation team will arrive in the morning and will work for between five and ten hours on average. The majority of the work will be done outside on your roof, so you can expect it to be quite noisy in your home.

Many solar customers ask, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” The answer is yes; you should plan on being home for the entire day when your panel installation is scheduled. Your installers will need access to your home at some point to make the connection to your electric panel, and they may need access to your attic and other interior areas.

The company may also schedule an inspection from your utility provider on the day of the installation to save time and get your panels functioning right away. A solar inspection takes about a half hour in most cases, so that may add a bit to your installation timeline.

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in Massachusetts

After the installation is completed, you’ll need your local building department to sign off on the job, which will require an inspection. Your installer should coordinate the inspection date and time for you, but you will need to be home in many cases to provide access if it’s needed. Some inspectors will just do a drive-by inspection, but others need full interior access.

There is usually no charge for the first inspection, but if you miss the appointment, your inspector may charge a fee for a re-inspection. You will be on the hook for that fee if there is one.

Inspections often seem unnecessary to solar customers, but they help the building department keep track of legal and illegal construction, and they are required to close out permits. Open permits can present issues with buyers getting financing if you ever sell your home, so closing them is important.

After the inspection, the monitoring of your system will be on you. You may get access to a solar monitoring app or software, depending on your panel manufacturer. SunPower and Tesla, for example, have free monitoring apps, and your installer can typically help you get that set up to monitor your production and consumption remotely.

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) in Massachusetts

Once your final inspections are done, you should be granted permission to operate by your electricity provider. PTO confirms that your system is connected properly and safely and that you can start generating power for your home with your panels.

If your installer hasn’t already activated your system, they should do so and show you where the emergency disconnect is and how to use it.

If they haven’t already, a rep from your installation company should also set you up with the solar monitoring app if your panels include one.

The only additional information you should need at this point is the emergency contact number for your power company. If you run into major issues, like an electrical fire stemming from your panels, you should call 911 and then report the problem to your provider’s emergency line.

We’ll include emergency numbers for the two largest energy companies in the state below:

  • National Grid: 1-800-465-1212
  • Eversource: 1-800-592-2000

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy in Massachusetts

At this point, you can sit back and enjoy the many benefits your panels have to offer. Not only will you start to see monthly savings on your electric bills, but those savings will eventually add up to the cost of your system and then save an additional $33,000, on average! Plus, your panels reduce your carbon footprint and your CO2 emissions.

You’ll see a financial upside from your solar project even if you sell your home, as your panels will make your home more valuable. On average, PV systems boost home values by 4.1%.11

What Are the Solar Panel Incentives in Massachusetts?

There are several solar panel incentives available in Massachusetts that make installing home solar systems more affordable and beneficial. We’ll include a list of the available perks below, along with brief explanations of how these help:

  • Net metering (NEM): Net metering is mandated for all utility companies in MA. Each provider must allow solar customers to overproduce energy and then credit those customers’ future energy bills using that overproduction. This helps reduce electric bills all year long and makes all energy generated more valuable.
  • Solar sales tax exemption: MA doesn’t collect sales tax on photovoltaic (PV) equipment, which reduces the up-front cost of converting to solar. With an average sales tax rate of 6.25% and a typical pre-credit system cost of around $19,000, this saves an average of over $1,200.
  • Solar property tax exemption: Home improvements that increase your property value also bump up your assessed value and, by extension, your property taxes. While research shows that installing solar PV equipment will make your home more valuable, the property tax exemption prevents your taxes from going up as a result.12
  • SMART Program: As mentioned above, the SMART Program provides a cash incentive for every kWh of electricity generated with your solar project. This is a great way to improve long-term savings associated with your solar system, and it can help pay off your panels more quickly.
  • Federal tax credit: Finally, the income tax credit (ITC) is a solar tax credit for 30% of your total system cost, which is the most substantial incentive available in MA. This isn’t a state tax credit, specifically, but it’s available to all Bay Staters. With the average installation cost coming in at around $33,000 before all credits, the ITC for MA residents averages around $5,700.

You can read our guide to Massachusetts solar incentives for more detailed information on how local benefits, credits and solar rebate programs can help you save money on your clean energy system.

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For more general information on statewide solar installers, you can check out our guide to choosing a solar company in MA.

FAQ: Solar Panels in Massachusetts

Below, we’ll answer some of the most common questions we get from Bay Staters about the process of going solar and the benefits they can expect as a result.

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Article author
Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he's not checking his own home's solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing.
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Expert reviewer
Kristina Zagame is a journalist, editor and content writer with expertise in solar and other energy-related topics. Before joining EcoWatch, Kristina was a TV news reporter and producer, covering a wide variety of topics including West Coast wildfires and hurricane relief efforts. Kristina’s reporting has taken her all over the U.S., as well as to Puerto Rico and Chile.

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