Considering Solar? Read This
by Bob Hance on Wednesday, December 14, 2022
We recently got a phone call from a solar panel financing company that was trying to find out the status of some residential solar arrays on our system. They wanted to know why the arrays weren’t running, and they weren’t getting paid. After some research, we discovered that a solar panel company had gone out of business, leaving a handful of our customers with major headaches and solar systems that weren’t working properly.
I’m not here to rail against solar companies. However, after learning about what these, and similar, customers have been told, I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to shed some light (pun intended) on things to watch out for when considering residential solar.
First and foremost, find out the true impact on your electric bill. Some solar panel companies claim over 90% savings off your bill, but don’t go by what a salesperson tells you. They will often give you information based on maximum output in ideal conditions. Do your own research to determine your average kilowatt usage per year vs. how much electricity your panels may produce. Keep in mind that solar only generates electricity when the sun shines, so you’ll be using kilowatts from an alternate source when the panels aren’t powering your home (like every night after the sun goes down). And unless you disconnect your meter and go off the grid entirely, you will still have the monthly service charge.
We’ve also heard of people being told the government will send them a check for their solar array. Not exactly. There is a federal income tax credit available. However, your exact credit depends on how much income tax you pay, and you should consult a tax professional when factoring this into your decision. The government isn’t paying you to install solar.
Also, watch out for any “no cost solar” programs. Those programs are often power purchase or lease agreements. You don’t pay for the panels, but you do pay for the electricity produced. You know the adage: if it sounds too good to be true…
Finally, if you don’t have thousands of dollars to invest in solar panels upfront, you will be paying off a loan. We’ve seen upwards of $30,000 with 30-year terms. Consider the impact this will have on your ability to sell your home or pay off the solar loan when you do.
Before you sign on the dotted line, get detailed information on the installation timeline and process, frequency of communication, available warranties, and follow-up work if there’s an issue. Also find out how the roof pitch will impact generation and what direction the panels will face. They should never face north. If the panels need maintenance five, 10, or 15 years down the road, does the solar panel company help make those repairs, or is it up to you to find an electrician? Also, learn as much as you can about the solar panel company. How long has it been in business? How many customers do they have, and will they share references? Are there any consumer complaints filed against them with the attorney general’s office?
And one last, but very important thing: Your panel installation must pass inspection, and we need to be notified of the inspection approval. We recently found one system that was back-feeding electricity onto our lines, which is extremely dangerous for our linemen. If your system does not pass inspection or we do not have a record of the inspection, we will disconnect the net metering equipment until we get the proper documentation. We must ensure the safety of our crews.
Renewable energy sources will continue to shape, even dramatically alter, the way we power our homes, and I certainly understand the motivation to be a part of the shift. However, there’s no going back after you’ve committed, so before you do, know exactly what you are signing up for.