I'm so close to trying a community solar provider, but need facts.
April 28, 2016 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Where should I start getting some better info on this?

Recently, a community solar provider started operating in my area. Basically I would pay them to run their solar panels, and they would then have my power company credit me for what is produced. The panels don't go on my roof, they are part of a larger solar panel farm a few cities away.

I would then pay both the solar provider and my local power company, but the total should supposedly be the same as what I pay now.

Has anyone tried this or does anyone have better info on long term results of such a program? I've seen that it has pretty decent reviews in places like denver and california, but I am in an area with less sun than that and it's winter several months of the year.
    Things that make me hesitate:
  • They have some sort of long-term contract where they lock in rate increases. They claim to be forgiving and let you out of it without penalty if you move out of their area or almost any other reason, but if that's the case why have a contract at all?
  • It's new to my state, and I am cautious of new stuff.
  • I haven't found many review or testimonials that seem unbiased. (I've mostly seen articles and testimonials on the provider's site)
My goal is mainly about reducing my monthly payment, the environmental aspect is a nice bonus.

Honestly, will I regret this when we have an unusually cloudy month or what else am I missing?
posted by JackT to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This seems like risk for minimal reward. It's a good concept but it seems very easy to take advantage of you.

Hidden fees seem likely, like a monthly cost to maintain the panels.

One question you should be asking and should be answered "How are they making money?"
They could just sell the power directly to the company, why involve you at all?
posted by FallowKing at 3:08 PM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


So: there have been regulatory struggles recently over how much, or even whether, a power company is required to pay residential solar power producers for their energy. It's easy to understand when you consider that the time of maximum generation, midday or so, is the time of minimal demand in many areas. The utilities prevailed in Arizona. I suppose it depends on the contract, but it sounds as if in this situation, you are shouldering the long-term risk of the net metering rates changing, or any aspect of whatever contractual arrangement exists between the local power company and the solar power company breaking down. Not great.

Second: you say "the total should supposedly be the same as what I pay now," and yet your main goal is reducing your monthly payment. How do those two fit together? It's not at all clear to me how that would work.

Third: your instinct about long-term contracts is fairly sound, though I don't know just how long the contract is.
posted by praemunire at 3:10 PM on April 28, 2016


Why would the power company be crediting you and not the solar panel company, since they are the ones generating and selling the energy? That alone seems pretty suspicious to me.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 4:56 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Good questions. I'll look into it more but continue to be wary.

The only savings I would see is from my rate being locked in for lower than my power company's yearly increases, but I don't think those have been all that bad in my area.

The contract is for 25 years. They spin it as a guarantee that the panels will be maintained for that time.
posted by JackT at 6:39 PM on April 28, 2016


The only savings I would see is from my rate being locked in for lower than my power company's yearly increases, but I don't think those have been all that bad in my area.

From what I've seen, solar providers have been very aggressive in estimating power company increases. But, of course, it's all speculation on everyone's part, so they could be right.

The contract is for 25 years. They spin it as a guarantee that the panels will be maintained for that time.

Without getting too wild-eyed about the future of solar, you can guess that those panels should be obsolete 2/3 of the way through that period, if not earlier. So you'll be paying to maintain inefficient (hence, at that point, relatively expensive) and ancient panels.
posted by praemunire at 7:45 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


They claim to be forgiving and let you out of it without penalty if you move out of their area or almost any other reason, but if that's the case why have a contract at all?

Do they let you cancel the contract without penalty or only transfer it?

I would read the contract carefully, especially the parts pertaining to future changes in net metering laws.

And I know it's not part of your question, but it is possible to finance your own solar panel installation: FHA PowerSaver.
posted by bradf at 8:03 PM on April 28, 2016


We had one of these mailings, in a more rural area that is at a higher latitude, but my recollection was that it came right out and said that the rate we would pay would probably be 3% higher than what we are paying now. I got the impression that the focus of this marketing was on those who were willing to pay a bit more for the privilege of Doing the Right Thing.

But then our local electrical provider announced a hefty price increase to fund a new gas-fired generation plant to replace an older coal plant. Had I signed up, I might have ended up saving money.
posted by megatherium at 8:29 PM on April 28, 2016


What is your state? Incentives and programs are highly state specific.
posted by bq at 8:42 AM on April 29, 2016


Please please please read the fine print.
posted by domo at 9:35 AM on April 29, 2016


In my state (New York) and probably most others, the established utilities are at least nominally regulated by the state government as to how much they can charge for electricity. A private corporation is (probably) somewhat less regulated as to how they operate. Yeah, read the fine print.
posted by freakazoid at 6:39 PM on April 29, 2016


Also, 25 YEARS???!!!!

You have GOT to be kidding me! That is totaly insane. Only family and mortgages are worth that kind of commitment.
posted by freakazoid at 6:43 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks all, this makes it much easier to walk away from this potential disaster.
posted by JackT at 8:53 PM on April 29, 2016


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