Could Solar Panels Become a Common Sight in West Roxbury?

By Ray Porfilio
As published on
January 2013

West Roxbury Saves Energy — along with some 20 like-minded organizations from communities such as Newton and New Bedford recently attended a “Community Leaders Energy Summit” in Boston hosted by Next Step Living (NSL). Familiar to WRSE from our work with Renew Boston, NSL bills itself as a socially conscious, environmentally focused, results-driven organization dedicated to helping its customers lower their energy bills, increase the comfort of their homes, and reduce their carbon footprint. During the summit, we had a chance to catch up with Ben Harel, a Greater Boston Community Outreach Coordinator with Next Step Living whose territory includes West Roxbury. We asked Ben some questions to gauge West Roxbury’s scores on a report card of energy improvements. Read on to discover how our neighborhood is doing.

WRSE: How many assessments and weatherization upgrades has Next Step Living done in West Roxbury? How does that compare to neighboring communities?

Harel: Since September 2010, Next Step Living has provided some 782 assessments, resulting in 335 weatherizations in West Roxbury. This compares to 1,074 assessments and 418 weatherizations in Roslindale and 944 assessments and 351 weatherizations in Hyde Park. You can see there is still plenty of room for growth in West Roxbury.

WRSE: What are some of the programs Next Step Living offers that may be of interest in West Roxbury?

Harel: West Roxbury residents can take advantage of two amazing green programs: our no-cost energy assessment and our affordable solar program. The energy assessment is our most popular because it is a no-cost program paid for by MassSave. All homeowners and renters in 1- to 4-unit buildings who pay utility bills through NSTAR or National Grid can take advantage. In the energy assessment, one will receive no-cost CFL light bulbs, a no-cost programmable thermostat, and other instant energy-saving measures to help cut emissions and save on your bills. You will also receive a report and suggestions on how to further protect your home from unpredictable electric and heating costs.

WRSE: You mentioned an affordable solar program. How does that work?

Harel: The old model of buying solar was to pay $30k for a solar installation on your roof and then wait decades for it to pay for itself. We have a new model that we think makes more sense. Our most popular option of solar installation is the little-to-no-cost affordable solar. How this works is if you have a sun-bathed roof, we can install, maintain, and insure the solar array for as little as no money down. The homeowner then pays a low monthly rate (lower than their current electricity bill) to the solar company. We won’t install the panels unless we can guarantee we will lower your electric bills. People love this option. Next Step Living has done 23 installations in West Roxbury since 2011. [Note from WRSE: read below to learn how we plan to increase this number dramatically in 2013.]

WRSE: We have heard that only about 15% of roofs will be suitable for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. What do you look for in sites for potential installations?

Harel: This is true about the “solar elite 15%” of roofs. There are three characteristics of a good roof that are easy for you to memorize: The large part of the roof has to face south (southeast, southwest); it has to have minimal shading from trees and chimney; and it has to have a large enough flat roof area to hypothetically park three to four midsize cars. These characteristics can all be assessed from Google Maps images. If you think your roof fits these requirements, call us, and we can send a Next Step Living advisor free to your home to double check your roof.

WRSE: We understand that in addition to waiting for calls, you recently canvassed roofs in West Roxbury for potential solar PV installations. What can you tell us about that effort?

Harel: Next Step Living had a small canvassing campaign in West Roxbury recently. In total, it was 15 canvasser days’ worth of outreach, and our staff booked 25 solar home visits. This is solid success for the first time in a community. We were able to reach a lot of homes, and there was a lot of interest!

WRSE: Where else has Next Step Living done similar outreach and canvassing, and what have you learned that might apply to West Roxbury?

Harel: The ongoing Solarize Dedham program has had enormous success. This solar campaign has produced 27 signed solar deals in just eight weeks. This kind of town-sponsored, face-to-face outreach has made “going solar” into a community phenomenon.


WRSE is pleased that we will be partnering with NSL in the upcoming few months to reach more West Roxbury homeowners who have viable roofs for solar panels to encourage them to go solar. Stay tuned for details on how you can learn more about this solarizing program and what incentives will be offered. In the meantime, don’t miss our program with Mass Energy on February 25 about their newly launched 100 percent green electricity option that won’t cost you extra and that allows you to take a tax deduction for your participation. For details, visit