Are you fed up with rising electric utility rates?
Imagine how much higher they may be in the future if you don’t take action to Now Go Solar!
When I first moved to San Diego in 2009, my electric utility costs were manageable enough. Even then I wanted to go solar. There were two reasons I did not do so at the time, neither of them very good.
First, it just didn’t quite make economic sense to jump into it at the time — or so I thought. At the time my electric bill was actually pretty low, compared to these past couple years.
Boy, was I wrong in waiting! Each year since I arrived in 2009, we’ve seen our electric utility rates steadily increasing. Not only that, but in the past couple years we’ve also seen an increased need for air conditioning in San Diego. The global warming naysayers can say all the nay they want, but ask any resident of San Diego County if our summers are getting warmer, and for longer periods of time. Many schools and offices throughout the county, that never had air conditioning, are now sensing the need.
The second not-so-good excuse for not going solar 5 or 6 years ago, was that my significant other felt that, “solar panels are ugly!” Personally, I think solar panels are beautiful. But keeping peace in the family carried some weight in that costly decision to delay.
In retrospect, I have to tell you that in all the years I’ve been driving into my driveway, I cannot once recall paying much attention to how my roof looked. Its a roof. It serves a purpose of keeping the rain out of the house. But from my living room, or anywhere else in my home, I have no view of my roof to judge whether it is ugly or not.
What WAS ugly, however, were my electric bills. They got uglier and uglier every time a new one arrived.
Another thing is that in all these years, not once have I ever seen my neighbors across the street admiring my roof. Not once have any of them ever said anything to me about my roof’s appearance. Now if they want to stare at my roof for any reason, that is up to them. But I should not govern my decision to install solar panels or not, and the expense of my energy, based on any thoughts my neighbors may have on the appearance of my roof. If or when your neighbors contribute to your electric bill, then you may want to give them some control over what appears on your rooftop. Until then, it is pretty much none of their business.
Again, what got ugly were my electric bills. Over the 79 months between purchase of my home and my installation of solar, my average monthly electric expense went from half a hundred dollars, to several hundred dollars — sometimes even over $400 per month.
Based on our electric appetite, the investment in solar will pay for itself within about 6 years. If you factor in the coming increases in electric rates, the payback will be even shorter.
SDG&E has a remarkable history of raising rates. In the 15 years between January, 2001 and November 2015, the utility’s base tier electric rates increased by nearly 300%. That is equivalent to a compound rate of over 8% per year, with no end in sight.
Do you think that is bad? Well, hold onto your seat! In that same period SDG&E raised its top tier rate by nearly 500% — the equivalent of over 12% per year.
As I researched the increasing cost of electricity in San Diego, the picture became clear. My energy cost inflation would not stop unless I stopped it. I had to find a better way to energize my home. The solution was easy, and as obvious as the sun in the sky. God bestows the gift of sunshine upon us each and every day! In that sunshine is an inexhaustible supply of FREE energy. All we need to harvest that energy is readily available with a remarkably affordable investment in solar panels.
When I opened my November SDG&E bill, with the previous month’s electric expense exceeding $320, I made the decision. The time for research and shopping was over; the time had come to Now Go Solar!
Over the previous several years, I may have wasted a lot of my dollars. But I didn’t waste my time. During that time I had studied the solar energy industry extensively. There came a time when the relationship between my significant other and myself became less significant. After buying out her interest in my home in June of 2015, I was then free to install solar. I started shopping seriously for solar the first of July. Between July and November, when a $320 electric bill arrived.
I had a parade of literally dozens of solar sales people come through my dining room, offering a dizzying display of sales proposals. I gained quite an education on the topic during that time. I learned some from what these sales people told me, but even more from sorting out the differences between the various proposals, and the discrepancies among their respective stories.
Having become fairly knowledgeable on the subject, in fact, several of the sales people who visited my home commented that I knew more about solar than they did. That was certainly true in the case of most of those sales people. What I found was that half of the people who were talking to me about solar, did not know what they were talking about. Most of the other half were actually lying to me! If you’ve ever had a solar sales person in your home, perhaps you can relate with my experience.
Several of those solar companies even suggested that I should go to work for them. But I’ll be frank. Most of those companies left me feeling I could not trust them enough to do business with them, much less go to work for them.
I ultimately found a company that agreed to install the system I wanted, the way I wanted it done, at a fair enough price, and in a timeline that was better than anyone else had promised. The system was installed to my specifications, not what that company was accustomed to selling. My expectations were met, as they actually did what they promised to do, when they promised to do it.
Rather than lease — a very bad idea — I purchased my system, and I had it sized adequately to meet 100% of my anticipated electric needs, then and into the future. That company’s normal practice, however, was to sell what are known as Power Purchase Agreements, similar to a lease, where they typically only covered a portion of their customer’s actual demand. Worse, they typically sold that agreement with an energy cost escalator of 2.9% per year. Most of their customers were talked into systems where the homeowner did not receive the 30% Investment Tax Credit. Instead, the company financing the project claimed ownership of the system, in order to capture the tax benefits. While the customer was left with a somewhat lower electric bill, those customers did not get the benefit of the 30% Investment Tax Credit. And to add insult to injury, many of those customers signed long term contracts that included escalator clauses — guaranteeing that future energy costs would increase.
By the time I was ready to install solar, I had already figured out that those Power Purchase Agreements were designed to make money for the finance companies — not to save serious money for the consumer.
Such plans did benefit the consumer with a lower bill, but at the expense of making some wealthy investors even more wealthy. People stuck with such plans benefited a bit at the beginning, but were short-changed on much of the solar energy savings that comes from full system ownership.
There is a place for such programs, but the situations are rare where that approach is more beneficial to the consumer than owning their system.
I am certainly pleased with the outcome, and am finding that my energy production is on target to meet or exceed my annual electric consumption, as was my intent, I consider my solar experience as a consumer to have been very fortunate. But many solar customers were not so fortunate. And it should not be so!
The investment in solar makes sense in the majority of households, particularly where consumers are trapped by high and ever-increasing energy prices. The electric rates throughout much of California are among the highest in the entire United States. So here in California, for anyone spending more than $1,000 a year on electricity should seriously evaluate the solar options available.
Many homeowners who have had solar installed on their rooftops, have not fared nearly so well as me. Large numbers have been misinformed by uninformed sales people out for a quick commission. Many have been sold inefficient or inadequate systems, such that they will continue to face growing electric bills over the coming decades.
So here’s what I did. I shopped until I found a solar company I felt I could trust, who would build me the system I knew I needed, and who could deliver it at a fair price within a reasonable period of time. The owner of that company heard about me from his sales rep, and paid me a personal visit. I was able to tell him exactly how I wanted my system designed, and why. We arrived at a fair price and we made the deal. After discussing my background and experience, this fellow also urged me to come to work for him.
I declined that offer, since the only aspect of his company that I found attractive was its ability to install a system to my specifications within an acceptable time frame. Other companies were unable to do so.
By that time, however, I had pretty much decided that I could do a better job of design, marketing, and sales than any of the other 30 solar companies with whom I had spoken. I told the owner of that company that, while I would not go to work for him, I might entertain working with him once I got into the solar business for myself, to have his company handle the installation of the systems I might sell. He welcomed the idea, and we agreed to talk about it later if and when the time might come for me to start selling solar.
Just the day before, another company told me it would take a month to permit my project, and between 8 and 10 weeks to complete installation. In contrast, this company said they could permit the project with the City and install “next week.” Whoa, what a difference! I was then invited to visit his office and meet some of his staff. I took him up on the offer, and watched their staff architect work with CAD software to design the layout of the solar arrays proposed for my project. Moments later they demonstrated their efficiency by sending another employee to file my building permit with the City.
I was impressed!
Anticipating a rapid approval from the City’s Planning Department, they scheduled my installation. I was certain they could not deliver on their promise so quickly. Competing companies told me their standard process would take 8 to 12 weeks. But these guys did deliver! Before 8:30 on the morning on the scheduled date, their installation crew arrived, along with a delivery truck loaded with my solar panels, racking rails, and boxes of miscellaneous supplies.
Again, I was impressed! They had promised to install “before Thanksgiving,” and they pulled it off. They reduced a process that would have taken their competition two months or longer, to just a few days.
I figured this is a company that I could work with, with professionals who know their craft and management that delivered on promises.
So, I accepted the offer of employment, but on my own terms. I was brought up in a family of entrepreneurs with a customer-oriented commitment. I told Garrett that I would not work for his company, but that I would be pleased to work for his customers.
Soon after my own installation was completed, and we received Permission To Operate (PTO) from the utility, I made the decision to go into the solar business myself, on my own terms. I felt that I could share my knowledge of solar technology, gathered over the previous half a year, and offer solar systems that were properly designed with state of the art solar panels and the very best of available technologies. I would honestly SELL systems that my customers would OWN, and not allow them to be misled into shady lease or PPA programs that were not to their long term benefit.
Simply put, I was only willing to get into the solar business if I could treat my customers the way I wanted to be treated as a consumer.
So I again met with the owner of the company that installed my system. We worked out an arrangement where his company would handle my installations for me, but I would do my own marketing and sales, making deals that were genuinely in the customer’s best interest. He agreed and we set out to do business on that basis.
Oddly enough, that deal lasted only a matter of weeks. I sold 3 systems, and got them designed, engineered, permitted and scheduled for installation. The first installation was scheduled to start on a Friday. Financing had been arranged, materials ordered, and scheduled for delivery. On Wednesday of that week, shortly before noon, the owner of that installation company called to tell me he had determined to outsource his installations to another company. He wanted me to accompany him to travel to Orange County to meet with that new company the following day.
I was shocked, to say the least, but I did travel to Orange County. I was not pleased with the outcome of that meeting. That company had no crew in the San Diego area, and it became evident that this company would not be able to fulfill the promises I had already made to my customers.
I sensed there was more to the story than I had been told. So I contacted a member of installation crew of the company I had expected would be handling my installations. In that call I learned that the reason the company was not going to handle their own installations any longer was that the entire crew had quit, and for good reason. After some discussion, I asked if his crew would entertain coming to work for me. Ten minutes later, I had my own crew. The licensed electrician that had been working with the other company also joined in. We had to delay that first installation a week or so, but we got it and the others done to everyone’s satisfaction.
It was a strange way to start a business, but the road was only bumpy for a short while. We are now a full service electrical contractor, specializing in delivering energy efficiency measures, capable of handling far more than just solar. There is no project too small or too large for us to tackle.
Please use the information request form on this page, so we can get started on your next energy efficiency project.