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Trouble with solar panels

Dear Editor:
To begin with, I am very much in favor of solar energy (panels) and have been for some time. My opinion is solar panels are a win – win situation for most home owners and businesses.
Not too long ago, I contacted a well known solar panel company and a representative came to my home. Little did I know I was about to be shocked as the representative explained this company’s plan. After his explanation it became obvious to me, his company and others like his are not in the business of selling solar panels, they are in the business of selling savings.
This is what I learned. These companies don’t sell solar panels; they lease them to the homeowner. These companies use a percentage of what they “predict” Southern California Edison will be charging for electricity per year in the future. This rep told me his company expects SCE will increase their yearly billing by 6% in the future (probably a realistic figure if not higher).
With this number in mind, the rep said his solar company would increase my monthly bill to them for leasing of the panels by only 4 ½ % per year thereby saving me a whopping 1 ½ % per year. In my case, the company rep calculated my monthly SCE bill the first year would be $220.51 per month. Therefore, the rep’s company would only bill me $141.80 per month and it would not increase (the first year). Now that is a savings I admit and I’m liking it.
Here’s the problem. They lease you the panels for 20 years. How many people would be willing to sign up for something like this for a 20-year commitment? When I asked about buying the panels, he said in essence the average homeowner couldn’t afford them.
The rep also said his company gets all federal and state rebates for having solar panels installed. I never did learn what that amount is. In my case, the solar company would start my monthly bill by charging me $141.80 per month and in 20 years my monthly bill that I would be paying would be increased to $327.25 per month
The company rep stated based on these rates, at the end of 20 years I would have paid his company $53,382 for the solar panels (let us not forget they also get all government rebates). The rep said based on their predications, I would have paid SCE $97,341 so at the end of 20 years I would have saved ourselves $43,959.
What I could not get a direct answer to was what if I sell my home and the new buyer doesn’t want their plan. Who pays for the remaining term on the contract? No real response. What if SCE doesn’t increase their monthly bill by 6% every year and lowers their monthly cost (I know that would be unheard of)? Also, what if your company goes out of business, which is common, who is going to be collecting my money? (I strongly suspect they would sell my contract to a finance company).
I’ve recently seen commercials on TV advertising Lennox’s new air conditioning systems powered by solar. SCG is also advertising on TV to have solar power heat the water in your hot water heater. The other day I received a flyer in the mail saying their company could install solar panels to heat my pool water.
My point behind all of this is simply this: none of us know what technology will bring to us in the next 20 years so why on earth would I want to sign some sort of an agreement for solar roof panels for 20 years?
Until solar companies quit being so greedy and settle down in conducting business in a more logical and fair method selling (leasing) and installing solar panels, my opinion is solar panels for homeowners is on the back burner along with earthquake insurance.
I have checked with other companies, including a rep at Costco, and a 20-year lease seems to be the normal business practice. Perhaps someday more responsible and logical companies will come along and solar panels will be on almost everyone’s roof. It sure would beat paying SCE through the nose for their fossil fuel system. I still do not know why clean burning natural gas isn’t a more primary fuel in most things we use today.
We do have a 5 ton A/C whole house unit installed but rarely use it because when we do, our SCE bill goes through the roof. Our unit is about 10 years old but probably only has about a 2 year amount of usage on it. I would really enjoy having solar panels without having any concern about how our budget was really going to get so bent out of shape the following month.
David Abney
Downey

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Published: May 23, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 06



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