August 25, 2013

Homeowners' leasing option like renting the sun ... sort of

By CAROLE FELDMAN The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Ketch Ryan, Kirk Renaud
click image to enlarge

Ketch Ryan, right, and her neighbor Kirk Renaud pose next her solar-paneled house in Chevy Chase, Md.

Photos by The Associated Press

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Ben Kunz’ house with solar panels installed on the roof in Cheshire, Conn.

Leasing has opened up solar to a whole new group of homeowners, said Jonathan Bass, SolarCity spokesman.

"We think of ourselves as an energy provider," he said. "Installation is free and the customer pays for electricity."

Solar-generated electricity, that is, for a monthly fee. The cost is lower than if purchased through the electric company. But if you lease the system, you won't get to take advantage of rebates and credits.

"We insure the system for the customer," Bass said. "We provide monitoring service. We provide repair service. ... And we also guarantee the performance of the system."

Jeff Hodgkinson of Mesa, Ariz., said it was that full-service option that prompted him to lease. He paid the full cost of the 20-year lease at the start and expects to begin realizing the savings in about five years.

Going solar for his electricity and hot water was part of a broader effort, he said. "We had moved into a new home," he said. "One of the things I wanted to do was make the house very energy efficient."

The Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a similar message. Sam Rashkin, chief architect in the agency's Building Technologies Office, said people should consider solar "if it complements an energy-efficient house and can reduce their energy requirements." He said other energy-efficient features include well-insulated walls and high-performance windows.

If your options include solar, don't think you can drop the electric company altogether, though. You'll need it as a backup for those cloudy, rainy or snowy days when sun is at a minimum, or when you're using more electricity than your solar system can produce.

But on those days when you're producing more electricity that you can use, many states allow you to put the excess back into the electricity grid for use by others. Called net metering, it will show up as a credit on your bill.

"You're seeing your meter going backward," Ryan said. "That's fun."

 

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