Talk to APS before choosing a solar contractor

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A Sun City man says he had to abandon his plan to go solar because of an expensive demand he thought came from APS but was really a misunderstanding that can be avoided.

Consumers need to research solar contractors carefully and make an educated choice, but make that second on your to-do list. The first thing you should do is get APS out to your home to find out what they need to approve your system.

"It was a lot of effort, for nothing," Dave Miller said.

Miller stares at his house and can only wonder now how nice it would have been to have solar panels on his roof and energy savings in his pocket. Miller says he spent considerable time choosing and working with a solar contractor, then APS came to his house for a pre-installation inspection. Miller says it took APS a month to notify him that he needed to move his breaker box.

"That's what our policy is," Miller said. 

Miller says APS wants the breaker box moved from the north-facing side of the house to the west-facing side but won't explain why. It's only 75 feet, but Miller says the cost has scuttled his plans to go solar.

"If it's going to cost me $8,000 to move a control panel, it really makes the decision for me cause I just can't afford to do that," Miller said.

CBS 5 News checked several nearly identical houses in Miller's neighborhood that had solar panels. All faced south like his, but none had breaker boxes on the west side.

"They're all over on different sides of the homes. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with where it's located on the home," Miller said.

To avoid wasting time, Miller's learned it's better to research and contact solar contractors second.

"I would probably contact APS first and say, send an engineer out, have him tell me what is necessary," Miller said.

So what was the misunderstanding? APS says the solar system can be installed next to the main electrical breaker, it's called a "split" system. This is apparently what CBS 5 News noticed with the many other solar-powered homes in that neighborhood. Moving the electrical breaker is not a requirement; it is an option.

The contractor wanted to combine the systems into one and current code requires "all in one" systems to be located where there's unrestricted access (outside any fenced-in areas). The only reason the system needed to be moved was that the contractor chose the "all in one" system.

APS helped the contractor figure out how to install the split system next to the electrical box and that eliminated the need to move it to the other side of the house. Miller's solar panel project is back on and he should have his panels installed very soon.

Remember, call APS out first and see what they require. It's a free service and can eliminate this type of confusion because you'll already know your options before you choose a solar contractor.

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