From the Davis Enterprise: Repowering Yolo County with the sun’s energy

[Originally posted March 19, 2015]

Thanks to Davis Enterprise reporter Felicia Alvarez for her profile of RepowerYolo: 

How do you get 1,000 homeowners to go solar?

This is the question that Chris Soderquist, co-owner of RepowerYolo, asked himself when he started a new solar company in Davis in 2013. An environmental activist and clean energy businessman, Soderquist launched RepowerYolo alongside John Walter to support homeowners in making Davis a clean-energy city.

After seeing friends and neighbors attempt to add solar power to their homes, only to end up with low guarantees and high prices, Soderquist and Walter took matters into their own hands and founded RepowerYolo.

The company uses group purchasing to reduce the cost of installing solar panels on homes and businesses. Instead of purchasing solar units individually, group-purchasing power allows a single homeowner to buy solar panels at the bulk price, the same price per unit as if 100 units were purchased at once.

RepowerYolo works as a project manager alongside solar contractors. The company, in turn, helps ensure that homeowners are getting the exact unit they need and are able to finance it in a way that works best for them.

Fred Lee, an El Macero homeowner, went solar through RepowerYolo last June.

Lee recalled receiving “massive” PG&E bills every July and December, amounting to $800 to $1,000 a month. With their two sons away at college, Lee and his wife turned toward solar to reduce their energy costs.

Today, 40 solar panels, each generating 270 kilowatts, cover his rooftop and provide more energy than his home uses, producing up to 450 kilowatt hours of energy. Using a 4-percent interest loan from Yolo Federal Credit Union, the Lee family purchased the panels for $40,000; they’re expected to be paid off within seven years.

Lee’s $800 monthly PG&E bill plummeted to $30 after the addition of the solar panels.

“If you analyze the situation, you can really cut back on electricity and gas,” Lee said, marveling at the difference made by moving away from the 8kwh electric heater that once warmed his home.

Two concurrent trends — PG&E’s rising rates and improvements in solar technology — have made solar power more accessible to homeowners, Soderquist explained.

In 2013, solar power dropped from $4 per watt to $1 per watt. The technology only continues to improve as more homeowners become interested in solar.

Meanwhile PG&E’s rates have risen from 10 cents per kwh to 16.5 cents per kwh over the past seven years. Rates are expected to continue to increase over the next few years, according to Soderquist.

Money isn’t the only thing on consumers’ minds, however.

“We have homeowners in their 60s and 70s that feel like it’s the right thing to do,” Soderquist said, “They feel that it’s right for their grandkids, good for the environment … and good for their planet.”

How to pay for it

RepowerYolo uses several different financing methods, including PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing, Yolo Federal Credit Union loans, home equity lines of credit and cash.

About 15 percent of Repower’s customers use PACE, 25 percent use credit union loans, 25 percent use home equity lines of credit, and the remaining 35 percent pay with cash, according to Charles Soderquist.

PACE financing gives homeowners the option of purchasing solar power panels and other improvements such as drip irrigation and insulation through no-money down payments that are added to a homeowner’s property tax bill. The taxes are collected over a 20-year period at 8 percent interest.

The Yolo Federal Credit Union also offers loans for solar installation and home equity lines of credit that can cover all of the costs of adding solar to a home, if a homeowner is eligible.