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What is Net Metering?
How do you select a solar contractor?
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Contact us for more information about solar and assistance in making decisions about whether solar is a good option for you.
HOW IS ELECTRICITY GENERATED FROM THE SUN?
Solar energy systems work when sunlight hits a solar photovoltaic module (solar panel or PV panel) and causes an electric current to flow. The current produced from the PV panels is controlled and regulated by an inverter, which converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) needed for use by household appliances. The electrical panel is where the power gets distributed throughout your house; any excess electricity may be sent from the panel back to your cooperative’s power grid.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A SOLAR PV SYSTEM WILL WORK ON MY HOUSE?
To begin, you can look at factors such as which direction your home faces, the condition of your roof, and obstructions such as trees and other buildings that may block the sun during the peak generation period of 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Your cooperative representative, working with your solar contractor, can provide a more detailed analysis on what to expect.
HOW DO I GET STARTED WITH SOLAR?
- Before choosing a solar system be sure that your home is as energy efficient as possible; you may want to get a home energy audit from your cooperative to help determine which improvements will be most beneficial. Investing in energy efficiency provides a faster return on your investment. By improving your home’s energy efficiency first, you will reduce your overall energy use and may reduce the size of a PV system.
- Make sure your roof is in tip-top shape. If yours is older, you may need to repair or replace it before installing solar (remember that solar PV system may last up to 30 years, so be sure your roof will last that long, too).
- Research solar and solar contractors thoroughly before investing in a system; get at least three quotes before choosing one. Be sure to work closely with your cooperative for advice and assistance on interconnecting with the grid. We can provide information and history of your energy use that can help you size your system and evaluate savings. Our staff has experience working with other member-owners and solar contractors.
HOW MUCH ELECTRICITY CAN I GENERATE?
That depends on several factors:
- The size of your system. Determine how much electricity you want to produce; then size your system accordingly. Note that you can start out small and add on. A system that will generate 100% of your energy needs is expensive, so most systems are sized to generate only a portion of your home’s needs.
- Your site. If you have a shade-free area from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., you’ll be able to collect more sun and produce more energy than if your site is shaded.
- Your region. The sunnier days in your area, the more electricity you’ll be able to generate. For example, systems in the southwest produce more electricity per year than in the northeast. To help answer this question in more detail, your cooperative and your installer can provide details about your situation.
HOW LONG IS THE PAYBACK PERIOD ON A SOLAR PV SYSTEM?
The payback period can range from 10 years to more than 20 years, depending on the system cost, available rebates and incentives, the amount of electricity produced, and the value your cooperative places on consumer-owned generation. Check with your cooperative for more information on net-metering policies.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH A SOLAR PV SYSTEM ON CLOUDY DAYS?
Your system will not collect sunlight at night and on cloudy days. That means, you will draw electricity from your cooperative during these times. Because your home is still connected to the cooperative’s electric grid you’ll be required to pay for the operating and maintenance costs of the electric system. Your PV system may produce energy, and even excess energy, on sunny days. Check with your cooperative to determine the value of electricity generated from your PV system.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH A SOLAR PV SYSTEM DURING POWER OUTAGES?
Most grid-connected PV systems shut down to prevent back- feeding electricity into de-energized power lines that may have fallen or that line crew members may be working on. It’s important to have this shut-down feature to prevent injuries—and even death— to those working on the line.
WILL MY COOPERATIVE BUY ANY EXCESS ENERGY I PRODUCE WITH A SOLAR PV SYSTEM?
Grid connected PV systems are connected to the cooperative’s power lines. That means electricity can flow both ways (to your home from your cooperative, and from your PV system back to the electrical grid). Particularly on sunny days when your energy use may be low, your system may produce excess energy that can flow back to the grid and may be purchased back by your cooperative. Many cooperatives purchase energy generated by a PV system above what the homeowner uses. Check with your cooperative to get specific details for your area, including requirements for interconnection, safety, metering, and applicable rates.
HOW MUCH DOES A SOLAR PV SYSTEM COST?
The price of PV components varies depending on the size of the system (generating capacity), type and quality of the components purchased, and complexity of the system selected. The good news for consumers is that the cost of PV has declined dramatically over the past 20 years.
Installation costs depend on the size and complexity of the system, but also on the home layout and construction. For example, a simple, south-facing roof allows for an easier install than a roof with hips and valleys. In addition, some homes require structural or wiring upgrades. An average 4 kW system may cost between $10,000 and $20,000, before credits and incentives. This is based on a typical installed cost of $2.50 to $5 per Watt of distributed generation capacity. To determine your cost, get multiple bids from reputable installers.
ARE THERE INCENTIVES AND TAX CREDITS FOR INSTALLING SOLAR PV SYSTEMS?
For 2020, the tax credit is 26 % of the cost of new residential systems. The tax credit is reduced to 22% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. Be sure to consult with your financial and tax advisor.
HOW LONG DO SOLAR PV SYSTEMS LAST?
Certified PV products and systems generally are reliable, with a life expectancy of about 30 years. PV panels may outlast the roof they are attached to. Make sure your roof is in good shape or budget for replacement during the life of the system.
Manufacturers test PV panels for hail impact, high wind, and freeze-thaw cycles to represent real-life situations. Most manufacturers offer 20- to 25-year warranties for panels; extended warranties may be available at an extra cost. Little maintenance is required; occasionally it may be necessary to rinse modules off with water to remove dust and grime. Other components like inverters may have a shorter life.
IF MY HOUSE IS NOT SITED FOR A SOLAR UNIT, ARE THERE OTHER SOLAR OPTIONS?
If your house is not ideal for solar, you rent your home, or you just aren’t ready to make a big investment, there are other options. Talk to your cooperative about community solar or green power purchase options.
5 Myths About Cooperative Solar Power
MYTH: Electric cooperatives do not support home solar power installations and distributed energy generation.
False. Electric cooperatives have supported home power installations for many years. Buckeye Power, the cooperative generation provider, has relaxed the all-requirements power contract to allow cooperatives to purchase energy generated from solar power. Your cooperative has an interconnection application for you to start the process. Your cooperative also has specific safety requirements for interconnection and a comprehensive net metering policy that fairly compensates you for generating a portion for your own electric use.
MYTH: Your electric bill will be reduced to zero or near zero as a result of your solar panels.
False. Electric cooperatives have been tracking member-owned generation along with cooperative-owned community solar panel production for more than 15 years. A typical home installation will send about 60% of its generated power back to the grid over the course of a year. This is because there is a lot of variation between when solar power generates and when homes use energy. Due to this variation, solar powered homes connected to the cooperative still rely on the grid for about half of their power needs. Your cooperative requires all members connected to the central electric system to pay for the energy they use to supplement the solar production and ongoing operation and maintenance of the system as well as billing and meter reading fees. It is highly unlikely your electric bill will be zero.
MYTH: You don’t need to contact your electric cooperative until you’re ready to interconnect your solar system.
False. Electric cooperatives are not-for-profit electricity providers in your community and will always support what is in the best interest of members. Involving the cooperative early in the process will allow for this contractor-homeowner-cooperative partnership that will help ensure the best possible outcome for you. Your cooperative partner can explain the interconnection process, assist with the application, discuss net metering payment terms, provide annual electric consumption data and coordinate required interconnection work needed from the cooperative. We can also review the power purchase agreement terms if the system is being financed.
MYTH: Solar panels are good options for members on low income or who struggle to pay their electric bills.
False. Zero money down solar systems seems enticing for members and especially those who currently have difficulty paying their bill. We urge extra caution when entering this kind of contract. Often what seems like too good of a deal usually is. These offers sometimes come with inflated costs, high-interest rates and extended payment terms and all too often the promise of lower to even no electric bill. Your electric cooperative has been your trusted energy advisors for more than 80 years and we would be glad to assist you in this process.
MYTH: Solar contractors/salesmen are your best source of information for distributed generation, including solar power.
Perhaps. No one knows solar installations better than the contractor. Likewise, no one knows electricity (billing, net metering, interconnection, etc.) better than your electric cooperative energy advisor. If you’re considering solar for your home, the best solution is to establish a contractor-homeowner-cooperative partnership early in the process so there are no surprises.
10 Steps to Take Before Installing Solar
As prices decline and technology improves, installing a residential solar system—also called a photo-voltaic or PV system—makes sense for some consumers. However, even with these recent improvements in PV, it’s important to find out the facts before committing to a purchase.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH, BEFORE INVESTING IN A SOLAR SYSTEM.
Your electric cooperative should be one of your first contacts. Experts at your co-op can answer basic questions, provide resource materials, and direct you to reputable websites, contractors and other experts in our region.
MAKE YOUR HOME MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT BEFORE BUYING A SOLAR SYSTEM.
Adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and completing other basic fix-it projects make sense for several reasons. You can cut your energy costs immediately, and reduce the size of PV system you purchase. Your cooperative offers energy audits to help identify priority areas for improvement.
UNDERSTAND HOW A SOLAR SYSTEM MESHES WITH YOUR COOPERATIVE’S SYSTEM.
Most solar systems are designed to provide you with a portion of the electricity needed but not 100 percent. At night, on cloudy days, and possibly at other high-energy-use times, you’ll need more power than your PV system can produce. That means you’ll still be connected to your cooperative’s power lines. Because these systems are grid-connected, energy can flow both ways. Your electric cooperative sets appropriate policies and rates for connecting PV systems to our lines (the grid) and for purchasing any excess energy your system might provide. As you begin to explore solar systems, be sure you ask cooperative experts about rate structures, interconnection, essential safety precautions, and any other connection-related details.
REVIEW YOUR CURRENT ENERGY USE SO YOU CAN DETERMINE WHAT SIZE PV SYSTEM TO INSTALL.
Your electric cooperative staff can help you review your past energy use, and help you determine how the projects you’ve undertaken to improve energy efficiency may help lower your future energy use. One pertinent bit of information is how your energy use fluctuates throughout the day. Having that information will help you determine—with expert assistance—the size and type of system best suited to your situation.
TALLY UPFRONT COSTS.
Your cooperative does not sell, install, or maintain PV systems, so you will either purchase or lease a system from a contractor who is not a part of the cooperative. If you purchase a solar system, you will be the owner, and you’ll be responsible for the purchase price, as well as ongoing maintenance and repair costs. If leasing is the option you prefer, you will pay less initially, but you’ll likely have higher ongoing costs. In either case, it pays to spend time figuring out all of the expenses you’ll be responsible for during the life of the system. These may include installation (in addition to the price of the system), interconnection costs, insurance, taxes, and possibly others, too. If you are leasing, ask contractors about the length of the term, if the contract is transferrable to a new homeowner if you sell your home, potential for price increases, as well as the same questions you’d ask if you were to purchase a PV system. In the “credit” column of your price comparisons, look at any incentives, rebates, and tax credits offered for either a purchase or a lease.
SEARCH FOR INCENTIVES, REBATES, AND TAX CREDITS.
Any financial incentives available will help reduce your investment costs. Opportunities are changing each year. Your electric cooperative staff and your contractor will have up-to-date details about incentives available where you live.
ACCEPT SHORT- AND LONG-TERM RESPONSIBILITIES.
If you purchase a PV system, you’ll need to meet the requirements of your electric cooperative’s interconnection agreement. That includes paying any costs of connecting to the cooperative grid. Local and/or state officials are responsible for conducting safety inspections, but it’s your responsibility to notify them in advance about your installation. After the interconnection requirements are met, and the safety and integrity of your system are approved, your cooperative will take care of the connection to the grid. And, as the owner of the system, you’ll be responsible for maintenance and system repairs. If you lease a system, your responsibilities will depend on the agreement you sign. Be sure you know and understand what your responsibilities are.
FOLLOW ALL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS.
Most solar systems are grid-connected. Because of the two-way flow of electricity, excess energy your PV system collects during the daytime flows into your cooperative’s lines. This shoulders you with the responsibility for the safety of your cooperative line staff, others who may come in contact with a downed power line, and your cooperative’s equipment. Improper connection and maintenance of your system may endanger people and the reliability of the grid.
CHOOSE A REPUTABLE CONTRACTOR/INSTALLER.
Start with a list of options garnered from website research, your electric cooperative, local or state Better Business Bureaus, renewable energy associations, your state energy office, your state Attorney General’s office, extension service staff, and any other local experts you can call on for assistance and advice. Contact at least a few of those contractors appearing on your list, especially if recommended by multiple state and local experts. Check out other installations the contractor has completed, comparing bids (get at least three), checking references, and thoroughly examining contracts. If possible, ask a contract specialist or lawyer to review the contract before signing.
MAINTAIN GOOD RECORDS.
Keep files on your pre-purchase research and pre-installation data provided by your cooperative, as well as bids, contracts, inspection reports, maintenance records, and all other details you may need to refer to in the future. In addition, you’ll want to know about system performance, so set up a system to track and compare your actual system performance with predictions provided by the contractor/installer.
10 Questions for Solar Contractors
1. Will a solar project save more energy and money than insulation and air sealing?
Experts agree that insulation and air sealing are almost always the most eﬀective means of reducing your energy use and saving money on your electric bill. It is best to ﬁrst reduce your energy needs before considering going solar.
2. How much energy does my home use each year?
At least one year of usage history should be reviewed if available. You or your contractor can contact your co-op to get this data.
3. How much energy will the solar produce each year?
Your contractor should be able to calculate this number easily. Your co-op can also help conﬁrm the estimate. The best bang for your buck typically occurs when the solar will produce 60-80% of your home’s annual energy needs.
4. How much will the solar cost me?
Ask your contractor for an up-front cost, even if it will be ﬁnanced. Compare the total cost per the size of system being installed (measured in kW-DC). As of 2020, residential solar systems should average about $3.00 per kW-DC.
5. Do I pay upfront, or over time?
Be very certain of your contractor’s payment terms, as these can vary widely.
6. How much money will I save on my electric bill?
Your contractor should be able to produce a good estimate of your bill savings if they understand how your bill works.
7. Have you asked my co-op to review your estimate of my electric bill savings?
You or your contractor should always ask your co-op to review an estimate of bill savings. Mistakes are common and it is much better to ﬁnd them before the system is built rather than after.
8. What is the name and contact info for the co-op employee who can verify that your savings estimate is reasonable?
Plan to spend at least a few minutes talking to your co-op directly. This is the best way to ensure that your expectations are reasonable and that there won’t be any surprises.
9. What happens if the solar needs repairs? Who pays for that?
A solar project is expected to last a long time. Who fixes the system in one year? In ten years? In twenty?
10. How do I track the performance of the solar to make sure that it is working properly?
A solar project has no moving parts and it can be hard to tell if something is broken. Ask your contractor how to monitor the system so you know it is running well.