I’m Going Solar, So Should You

When this publishes I’ll be on my first real vacation in years. Sure I’ve taken a long weekend here and there to go to Maine or down to the beach, but this time I’m actually getting on a plane (which I hate doing) and going to a place where it’s warmer to swim with Manatees and get a wand at Olivander’s. On the Monday after I return a team of guys will show up at my house between 7 and 9 a.m. to start installing solar panels on my roof. I may be more excited for the panels then I am for the vacation. (HYPERBOLE!)

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I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time, but I was paralyzed by the choices. Over the past year I’ve watched as panels appeared on houses all over my neighborhood. Each house seemed to have a different company on the job. Which was best? I couldn’t decide. Then, a couple of months ago, my boyfriend and I were leaving Home Depot which has had salesmen from Solar City stationed by the door for what seems like years. I figure Home Depot probably did its homework on the company, and since Solar City is now part of Tesla, it had to be a reputable company. Still, I usually avoid eye contact and sneak by, not wanting to get the hard sell, but on this day I was feeling it… So I stopped. 

The rep entered my address into what looked like Google Earth, took a quick look at my house and told me what I already knew: I have a perfect south facing roof. That, coupled with my already low energy consumption, meant I was a good candidate to buy panels rather than lease them. The next day they sent an actual salesperson to my house. He confirmed what the guy at the store told us. We needed so few panels it might make sense for us to buy them.

We went back and forth over this, even as we started to get the ball rolling. At first I was leaning toward leasing–because Solar City insures your roof and the panels when you lease, meaning if a tornado comes through and tosses a tree on my panels, I don’t have to bother my insurance company. But then I looked into what buying vs. leasing means for my home value. The FHA says the value of the panels has to be included in your home’s assessment if you own them, but it’s a bit grayer when you start talking about leasing. So I started leaning toward buying. But there was another bump in the road. My loan was ultimately so small, and they would make so little money off it–because I needed so few panels–that they wouldn’t even write the loan.

I could have gone to my credit union to get a loan, but I decided this just confirmed my initial feeling: leasing was the way to go. If I planned on being in this house for the life of the lease, I probably would have made a bigger effort to buy the panels. But that isn’t likely, so leasing will suit me just fine for now.

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If I had a field like this, I’d totally get a windmill.

The process, even with its financing hiccup, has been really easy, and if your roof can handle the panels, there is no reason not to install them. But here are some things you may want to know:

  • You won’t necessarily save a ton of money off the bat. I asked for an extra panel which brought my lease price (plus the pole fee you always have to pay the electric company in CT) to just a few dollars less than my average electric bill. What you will do is get control over your electric bill–as energy costs skyrocket, yours will stay the same (more or less). In fact, Solar City tells you exactly what your payment will be for the next 20 years (if you choose the lease option).
  • You can’t go “off the grid” in most states. I still need to be connected to the pole in front of my house–both so my panels can feed extra power back into the grid, and for the dismal gray months when I won’t produce much power. During those gray months I will use power from the grid, the cost of which is offset by all the excess power I feed into it on sunny days.
  • You can buy, lease, or just pay for power. I’ve already told you about buying and l easing, but there is also a Power Purchase Agreement option. The company puts panels on your roof and you pay for the power you use. At the end of the agreement, you have the option to buy the panels.
  • They take care of everything. I don’t know much about the other companies but there are a few things Solar City does that puts me at ease. The company will warranty and maintain the panels for 20 years. The panels are connected to the internet and if the weight of the snow is building up too much, the company comes out and cleans off your panels. If a tree falls on them, they take care of it. And then, of course, there’s the aforementioned insurance. But they also take care of getting the necessary permitting, and dealing with your town. You just sign some papers and it all just magically happens. Heck, my roof rafters even needed some minor upgrading to support the panels, and a team of very nice guys came over and beefed them up–free of charge. (I’ve even heard tales of Solar City helping finance new roofs for people who want panels but have old, failing shingles.)
  • If your panels don’t produce, they pay. By this I mean, if for some reason you use more energy than the system they designed for you can produce, and you receive an electric bill, Solar City pays it.

Here’s the bottom line: Right now there are so many solar options, there is no good reason not to at least explore your options. If you have a roof that gets good sun, chances are good you’ll be able to get panels for about the same price as your current electric bill. Every person who cares about the environment should be calling up a solar energy company in their neck of the woods and having a consultation. Do it while the incentives are still in place, because they won’t be around for ever.

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