Going solar? Questions you should ask first

(Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Over the past few months, 3 On Your Side has done a couple of stories on homeowners who wish they never went solar. So if you don't want to wind up in that crowd here are some things to think about.

For many homeowners, going solar seems like the right thing to do. Just ask Dan Whitten. He's with the Solar Energy Industries Association.

"We know that 90 percent of Americans really support solar energy."

Whitten says Arizona is certainly one of the top states when it comes solar usage. In fact, he says around 114,000 homeowners have taken the plunge. But, even he agrees, Dennis Huff and others are not happy with their solar.

"I've been taken advantage of."

Over the past few months, 3 On Your Side has received numerous complaints from Valley viewers who say their monthly solar bills were not nearly as low as they expected.

As a result, homeowners like Esther Chavez blamed the solar companies.

"You lied to us. What you did was wrong. You took advantaged of a disabled Vet."

And the solar companies frequently blamed the utility companies. Rachel Woolley was another Valley homeowner not happy going solar.

"We used 20 percent less energy last year and we managed to pay almost $1000 more than we would have if we'd never gone solar in the first place."

Fortunately for those viewers, 3 On Your Side was able to convince their solar companies to remove their panels and release the homeowners from their solar contracts.

But not everyone is so lucky. Whitten recognizes there have been conflicts.

"Arizona is one of those states that has had a history of conflict between some of the utilities and the solar industry."

So exactly what questions should you ask before going solar?

First, do you want to buy or lease your solar panels?

If you buy, you benefit from all the electricity it produces, but you're responsible for the upkeep of the system.

With leasing, the solar company owns the panels and you pay a monthly fee... for as long as 20 years in many cases.

And, that can gobble up any savings you expect.

Will you move soon?

If so, just remember the new owner will have to agree to pay the lease -- and that can be a deal breaker.

Dan Whitten, who spoke to us from Washington D.C, also suggests you specifically ask what is your utility’s rate plan.

Sometimes utility companies charge demand charge and that can negate any savings you think you'll receive from solar.

And finally, ask yourself will it be worth it?

Whitten adds; "The question that people should ask is how much money am I going to spend, How much am I going to save, how long is it going to take me to get a return on my investment and that can really vary from state to state based on policy, based on sun availability, based on whether you're using storage and those are factors that really need to be explored in advance of a transaction."

For more advice on what to know before going solar see the information below:

From SEIA: https://www.seia.org/initiatives/solar-customer-resource-portal

https://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/2018-06/SEIA-Consumer-Guide-Solar-Power-v4-2018-June.pdf

From Sunrun:

Suggested questions to ask before going solar: What electricity rate plan am I currently on? How will going solar impact this? Is there a demand charge associated with this rate?Since the modern grid was invented, customers have only had one choice -- the monopoly utility. But rooftop solar and other disruptive technologies are changing the old way of doing things.Creating your own energy system using things like home solar and batteries is getting cheaper every year, while rebuilding our outdated, broken system is only becoming more and more expensive -- and fixing that system is being funded by your utility bill. At the end of the day, many utilities are doing what is best for their shareholders, which is not always what is best for their customers. When you generate one kilowatt hour of your own electricity, that’s one less that you’re buying from the utility.These costs can be hidden through confusing and ultimately punitive rate plans. As mentioned in our last correspondence, Arizona customers often find it confusing to understand their utility electricity rate plan and the options available to them. Plans like the APS Combined Advantage Plan relies on demand charges that are confusing, can lead to unpredictable and high monthly prices, and ultimately not in many customers’ financial interest.Demand charges punitively charge the customer for their single highest hour of electricity use every month, no matter what their electricity use is during the rest of that time period. These charges are more commonly applied to commercial customers; they are not an ideal rate design for residential customers because they are difficult for customers to understand, completely unpredictable, and make it practically impossible for the savings that often come with home solar. Going solar is about consumer control and predictability. While APS rates, taxes, and fees will change, what won't change is our locked-in rate for solar-as-a-service via a company like Sunrun. Solar enables customers to reduce energy costs and protect themselves from fluctuating utility rates. Do I want, now or in the future, to get a battery with my home solar system?Rooftop solar and home batteries are a fantastic opportunity to gain freedom over your energy production and usage, find peace of mind during times of high stress on the main electricity grid, support clean energy and healthier air for your family and community, and simply, to save money. The addition of a home battery could allow you to access backup solar electricity in the event of a power outage. They also give you control over your power usage and information. That means you get to see how much energy you use and consume in real time, and decide when and where the lights stay on.The rise in extreme weather events and outages is increasing consumer awareness of power options, leading to an interest in resilient power. Battery technology allows you to use solar power stored in the battery when energy rates are at a premium, and provide clean backup power during an outage. Is my roof in good shape? Do I need to do home repairs before installing any equipment?That all depends on your roof! Sunrun inspects the roof before installation, and warrants our workmanship for any solar-related issues. We do not install systems on roofs that cannot support a solar system.Roof quality is not the only thing that Sunrun takes into consideration at the beginning of your solar journey. We customize the system completely, from how many panels you need based on the size of your home and where to place them on your roof to the right payment plan, meaning that you can choose the solar service that’s right for you and your family. This can give you long-term control over your energy bills, ensuring that you are only taking power from the grid when the solar power isn’t available. What happens if I need to sell my house but have a solar lease?Selling your home with solar can be a pain-free process through something called a “service transfer,” and we will help make that process as smooth as possible. If the home buyer qualifies for the mortgage of the house, Sunrun guarantees that they will automatically qualify to assume your solar system. We work closely with sellers, buyers, and their real estate agents, doing our best to ensure this is a seamless and hassle-free experience.People want to go solar. It’s a no-brainer to enjoy clean, affordable and reliable energy. When it comes to the benefits of home solar, very few people are active deniers. The greatest consumer obstacle is simply inertia. Americans crave energy freedom. Freedom is a deeply entrenched value of the people, and home solar offers this.Sunrun installs a new solar system somewhere in the country once every three minutes. Right now, there are about 1.5 million homes with solar. The US has the potential for 74 million solar homes, and we are seeing demand grow daily. How long until I see the first benefits of solar on my utility bill?In the absence of punitive rate structures, like the APS demand charge, home solar is a reliable and affordable choice. Although you should see solar savings on your first utility bill, solar is seasonal, so the best way to evaluate the financial benefits is on an annual basis.However, there are other benefits as well -- a significant one being, simply, that local solar power is a cleaner, better option. The utility sector is the most polluting, generating around one-third of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Particle pollution and other power plant pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks.Home solar is a zero-emission option that not only makes the local environment healthier and better for your community and family, but lessens the need to fire up dirty fossil fuel power plants.Additional questions to include: Who is selling the agreement? Who is installing the equipment? How will my billing structure change after going solar? Will I be paying the utility, the solar company, or both? How much electricity do I currently use? How will going solar offset this? What happens if my electricity usage changes in the future?If a homeowner is certain they are not signed up for the APS demand charge rate structure, then Sunrun’s solar-as-a-service model is a great option. With this product, Sunrun installs, maintains, warrants and insures the solar system for the life of the customer agreement, giving homeowners a hassle and worry-free service. Generating power where it’s consumed makes sense. It’s effective, responsive, and reliable. Home solar is simple and efficient in that we use existing infrastructure by putting panels on rooftops.At the end of the day, home solar optimizes costs and maximizes savings. Customers can sleep well knowing they are making the best decision for their home while also contributing to a healthier environment and community.

From Titan Solar: http://titansolarpower.com/residential-2/

From APS: https://www.aps.com/library/solar%20renewables/solarpartners/solarleasing.pdf

From SRP: https://www.srpnet.com/environment/solar/home/electricfaq.aspx

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