In early December, Ray Hebert constructed a photovoltaic array on a vacant lot adjoining his candy business in Dennisport. Hebert expected to operate his Stage Stop Candy business on solar power by mid-January. But ...
In early December, Ray Hebert constructed a photovoltaic array on a vacant lot adjoining his candy business at 411 Main Street in Dennisport. Hebert expected to operate his Stage Stop Candy business on solar power by mid-January.
“It was ready to go Dec. 4,” Hebert said last week. But NSTAR didn’t send an engineer to do the inspection until Feb. 18. “They said it could take 45 days for an inspection, and my application was sent to NSTAR in October,” Hebert said.
The $254,840 price tag for Hebert’s ground-mounted photovoltaic system is offset by $165,076 in combined state and federal stimulus grants. “The rebate clock doesn’t kick in until you’re on the grid,” Hebert said. “It’s a 70-day wait for the state rebate and 60 days for the federal one. I was losing money paying interest on my [$90,000] loan and not saving a penny on my electric bill.”
Luke Hinkle, owner of My Generation Energy in Brewster, said it can take months to get an NSTAR engineer on site to “witness” the system’s turn-on prior to its being connected to the grid. At that time, every component of the system is tested for defects that could affect other NSTAR customers once it’s connected to the grid.
“There’s a simplified process for smaller projects like the ones built by homeowners that are approved for connection to the grid in a day or two,” Hinkle said. “At the end of these projects, you e-mail NSTAR a completion form and photo of the project, and literally the next day you receive an e-mail approval.”
Projects consisting of more than 50 solar panels (Hebert’s has 156) take longer. “It can take months because you have to apply for an interconnection and the witness test,” Hinkle said. “Getting one does not help you get the other, and everything needs to be completely approved before you can submit your request for the witness test.”
NSTAR provides a lengthy document explaining the application process to hook up to the grid. “On page 20 the timeframes for the witness test are laid out, and it explains why the process is backed up,” Hinkle said. “I checked, and it doesn’t look like NSTAR is hiring more people. I built a huge, $750,000 system at Orleans Marketplace, and I got notice that it was going to be a month, not 10 days, before my inspection.”
Joe Feraci, senior engineer for NSTAR, denied its ever taken six weeks for a witness test once all pertinent paperwork is received.
“Until last November, we sent an inspector out once a week,” Feraci said. “But so many people finished projects and were rushing to be connected at the end of the year that we began sending engineers out every day to witness turn-ons.” Feraci said there’s currently a three- to four-week backup.
Asked if NSTAR is planning to hire more people to facilitate hookups to the power grid, Feraci said, “It has to be sustainable to put more people on. Time will tell if we need to hire more engineers.”
Media relations representative Mike Durand said NSTAR received Hebert’s paperwork Jan. 21. “We conducted the site inspection witness test Feb. 18,” Durand said. “That’s less than a month.”
Durand could not explain the discrepancy between Hebert’s claim that all required paperwork was submitted in October and NSTAR’s Jan. 21 receipt of Hebert’s interconnection application and required permits.
Nicole Muller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.