How about a Second Opinion?
(Psst….It’s Not Too Late!)
For the first time in forever, homeowners can choose how they power their homes. It’s a great feeling when you tell someone that they don’t have to pay the utility for their electricity anymore and you see that idea sinks in. The people I meet every day are afraid of their electric bills, not only because they seem to increase all the time, but because they honestly don’t know what they’re being charged for. “Going solar” means that you make your own electricity. Depending on the amount of power you use and the amount of roof space you have, it’s possible to make up to 110% of your annual electrical usage with the power of the sun and a quality Solar PV system.
Technology allows us to be in constant contact with our friends and family, and because of that lots of people know what we all do for a living. Over the past five years, many of my friends have asked my opinion on “going solar” and I’ve been able to guide them through the process. Some houses just don’t have a good application because they’re facing the wrong direction or because there are obstructions (like trees or other houses) that block the sun from hitting their roofs at certain times of the day or times of the year. What if you don’t have a friend that works in solar? Well, I’m here to help.
Homeowners can install a rooftop Solar PV (Photovoltaic) System that will produce electricity to use in their homes. The system is installed with a “net meter” that allows you to sell back energy to the utility when you make more than your house is using. Whatever you don’t use gets “banked” for use later in the form of kilowatt hours. You can use the power at night or you can save it for the winter months when you produce less power because the days are shorter. There’s no thought or work in it, it just happens automatically. Did anybody tell you that you could get one of these for free? They’re lying. Nothing is free.
If you get nothing else out of this, remember this:
Choose a real company. One that has been in business for a long time that can provide you with references. A lot of them. Check with the Better Business Bureau, your town’s building department or the Department of Consumer Affairs to see what experience they’ve had with the company that you’re considering.
Get your warranty information in writing. You want solar PV modules that have a full 25 year warranty for performance. You can get that kind of warranty on your inverters and optimizers too! Just remember, a product warranty is not the same and warranties vary. You want an installation warranty from the contractor that also covers their workmanship.
Don’t ever pick the cheapest contractor. Cheap is expensive. You want a company that is fully insured for liability, workers comp and disability (for their employees). You want them to make enough of a profit to stay in business to enforce their warranty. Quality and workmanship are very important. If you get a quote today and say it’s too high and they come back to you lowering their number by $3,000, they were fine with ripping you off before. That’s not cool.
Make sure the company you choose does not subcontract their installations. You don’t want some fool installing a system that produces electricity on your house where your family lives. Make sure your electrician is licensed and make sure there are no hidden charges. Make sure that you get this in writing as part of your agreement.
Even if you don’t choose SunPower modules, choose a SunPower dealer. SunPower modules are the best on the planet for many reasons, one of which is the training and certifications they require their dealers to have.
Don’t let any fool install your solar system. The safety of your family is not for sale.
One of the most important things to know is exactly how much energy any given solar system will produce. That’s what we look at when we meet a customer who has quotes from other companies. Even if you pay for your solar system with money you’ve been hiding under the mattress, you need to know how much energy that system will produce.
For example, Company “A” is offering you a payment of $159 a month and offsetting 90% of your annual electrical usage (also called “consumption). Company “B” is offering you a payment of $99 a month and offsetting 40% of your annual electrical usage. What does that mean? It means that you started out with an electric bill of about $177 a month. The solar from Company A will cost you $159 a month and you will still have an average monthly utility bill of $15 a month because you will remain connected to them. Everybody that doesn’t have a battery bank has to stay connected.
Company A’s monthly plan for you totals $174 a month, just a tad lower than you pay now. The solar from company B will cost you $99 a month and offset only 40% of your usage, leaving you with an average monthly utility bill of $106 (the remaining sixty percent of the bill that the solar doesn’t cover).
Company B’s monthly plan for you totals $205.00 and here’s the hook: When you lock in a payment for fifteen years or twenty years, whether you lease or finance the system, that means that portion of your bill won’t go up for the term of your loan or lease. The remaining portion of your bill, in Company B’s case 60%, which you still pay the utility for will continue to increase because let’s face it, nobody’s electric bills decrease over time.
A well-trained solar sales specialist will help you understand that when you buy a solar system (financed or purchased with that money from under the mattress), those payments go away. That’s a lot of free electricity. “Going solar” now and owning it is cheaper than staying with your utility and in most cases you can do it without any out of pocket expense. If your household pays Federal and New York State taxes via payroll deduction you’re eligible for tax credits that will offset about half of the cost of going solar.
If someone comes knocking on your door offering you a free solar system and all you have to do is sign this thirty-page agreement to buy the power from them for twenty years slam the door.If you’ve already signed an agreement with one of these companies, but you’re not installed yet, get a second opinion from a real solar contractor before it’s too late.
I’d like to say that while I do work for the best company on Long Island, I’m not trying to drum up business. We have a lot of very happy customers who refer us to their friends every day that keep us busy. As long as we keep giving them the best product, professional service and fair prices we’ll be just fine. To answer your question “what does she know about this and why should I believe her”, here you go. I’ve been in solar for five years. I’m the Chief Administrative Officer of SUNation Solar Systems, Inc. where I’ve been involved in hundreds of residential rooftop solar installations, both leased and purchased. I am a LEED Green Associate, I serve as the Secretary of the US Green Building Council Long Island’s Education Committee and most of all, I’ve been paying utility bills for over thirty years.
By Christina Mathieson, LEED GA