Solar Update: A test of my limited patience….

I love my solar panels. They were promptly and professionally installed in March, and then the city of Stratford and the helpful people at Next Step Living worked together to get the building permit filed and approved, and everything is done and ready to go. BUT…. But that was March 27, 2014, when we got the green light. Then, they said, all we’d have to do is wait for one visit from the electric company, United Illuminating, based in Orange, Connecticut. They said it should take 2-3 weeks. That was over TWO MONTHS AGO. Yes, I’m talking to you, UI. The UI guys were supposed to come and approved everything, then sign off to let us start generating our own power. But for some reason, they are dragging their feet. So I sent many emails to Next Step Living, and the folks there say this is happening to many of their customers. In late May we passed some sort of “official limit” to the foot dragging, but I don’t know what that means, because nothing happened.

Notice the switch helpfully turned to "Off."
Notice the switch helpfully turned to “Off.”

Curious. I can’t imagine what the motive might be for UI to drag its feet. Because every day they wait, I have to pay them for power instead of generate it myself. So it makes sense for them to maybe assign one very slow, befuddled person to handle the task, to see how long they can string this along. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I can say I’m disappointed, United Illuminating. I’ve got all my lovely generator parts and my fancy doodads, and they look cool, but right now, this is expensive roof jewelry. And we’re paying on the bank loan while we’re paying for power.

Fancy important side-of-house jewelry!
Fancy important side-of-house jewelry!

Hopefully my household horoscope will move out of Mercury Retrograde in the House of Getting Picky Annoying Stuff Done Within Capitalism’s Clutches. What deity am I supposed to bury in my yard to make bureaucracies function? No idea.

Update: The solar panels went online in July, and they’ve been great since they came online. We have a system to monitor the electrical production. We got an electrical bill in September for -$37! All looks like it’s working the way it should.

Going Solar

The panels and assorted hardware arrived today, and now they sit in a neat pile in our driveway. Even their existence there on the asphalt makes me happy. Later today we go to our local bank to sign the paperwork on a home improvement loan to help fund this adventure.

Largest anti-depressant I have ever purchased.
Largest anti-depressant I have ever purchased.

I didn’t even think this was an option because I thought: too expensive. So I wanted to document the process partly for other folks who might be curious or considering it.

I ran into a company, Next Step Living, that was tabling at a local artists’ fair last August. I wanted to get an energy audit of our house, so I ended up signing up for a few consultations. I even said no to the offer of a solar visit because it seemed way too intimidating. Then we had the energy audit and they filled a bunch of cracks in our house and did a huge number of other things, all for $75 (utterly worth it). They were so nice and did such a good job that I paid them to come back and do blow-in insulation in our attic, which was hardly insulated at all (even though our walls were, which was weird).

Eventually someone called me again from the same company and asked if I wanted to follow up on the solar. I said yes, a guy visited and explained the options. At each step of the process I was irritated because there was no way this was going to work (if you know me, you might know this is my MO. But I proceeded anyway, which is the functional half of my MO). Then we scheduled another visit for him to tromp around on the roof and use a device to see if our roof was pointing in the right direction, if it got enough light for enough of the day to warrant this investment. Because there are few trees around our house and because of the orientation of the roof, our answer was Yes.

This was exciting and scary: we learned that we could generate, theoretically, all the electricity we would need to run our house. The guy laughed at how little electricity we used, and then when he called the number in to have someone in the office generate numbers for him about the cost, the guy on the phone didn’t believe it and had to double check. That made me really happy.

So anyway, we went over the numbers and they seemed to make sense: total system cost of $20,000. Deduct $3,000 for a Connecticut state rebate, then another $1,000 for a sale they were having, then another $5,000 we are supposed to get back next year on a tax credit. That leaves us with about $15,000 to raise.

We went over what we’d save, and it turns out that (long story short) our monthly electrical bill of $100-$130 would be basically replaced by the cost of the loan. What would be left (if these things work the way they are supposed to) is a $15 monthly charge to the electrical company for the privilege of using their wires. When we generate more electricity than we use, it goes back into the grid to our neighbors, and we get a credit on our bill (I like that: physical Tonglen). When we need electricity, we use the credit and then pay for what we need. It ends up being a tiny bit more expensive than what we pay now, but part of what I’m paying for is the non-monetary benefit of being part of the solution. Anything I can do to offload some of my massive guilt at everything is a win by me.

There’s also the money thing of us only having to make these payments for 10 years, and the system being guaranteed for 25. That means 15 years of free electricity if all goes well.

The hard part for many people is the FINANCING, and this was a challenge. Like with most things, a good loan is easy to come by if you don’t really need it. Next Step Living recommended a bank that did special solar loans, but when I got the loan details, it didn’t seem that special. The interest rate was not that great. So I got a second estimate from the local bank. We did both applications, and then the local bank denied us our original loan amount because our house and assets aren’t big enough. (Fine, then, be that way). But that was okay, because they approved us for $10,000, and we drained the checking account temporarily for the remaining $5,000. The best benefit of paying up front a bit more and getting a different loan is that we SAVED $16,000 in INTEREST, which was basically the whole cost of the system to begin with. Interest SUCKS and discriminates massively against people with less liquidity. Not everyone can make a bigger down payment or get a bank loan, and that’s why people need more help in getting solarĀ online with better interest rates.

The $5,000 tax credit sounds like a phantom to me. It’s so far off in the future (next year), and taxes are so confusing, that I don’t believe it will really work. But we’ll see. That theoretically will give us back our downpayment, leaving us with our $100 payment + $15 to the electric company. I will post more as this develops.