solar in woodland

I am going solar. Now.

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We have the fortune of exploring solar with dozens of homeowners each month. No two conversations are the same, but common themes prevail. We normally commence with a simple question: Why solar, why now (in terms of the homeowner’s interest)?

Solar is not a panacea and it does not make sense for all homeowners. Further, there is no single, silver bullet that prompts people to pull the trigger; here are a selection of “why solar, why now” anecdotes from homeowners:

1. PG&E: Opinions sway from virtual venom to distrust to steady rate inflation to I’m sick of paying PG&E so much every month. As you may have noticed, PG&E raised residential electricity rates ~42% over the past three years, and there’s more to come …

2. Climate change: Everyone wants to do their part, and solar is a the most impactful measure a homeowner can employ to reduce their carbon footprint. Furthermore, our state is burning (no-duh) and homeowners acknowledge the latent liabilities PG&E is accruing for the Santa Rosa, Redding and other fires; there’s a general belief (we agree) that ratepayers will bear financial responsibility for PG&E’s liabilities. Hence, going solar insulates you from future rate increases.

3. Donald Tariff Trump: Regardless of your political stripes, nobody likes to pay more for something. President Trump’s first two tariffs were applied to washing machines and solar panels. (Washing machines?) Fortunately, the quantity of solar panels imported into the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2017 increased 1900% (versus Q4-2016); the solar industry has been working through a surplus of stockpiled, pre-tariff solar panels. However, supply is dwindling — prices have most likely bottomed — and the solar industry foresees tariffs in the next few months.

4. Donald Tax Credit Trump: There’s much concern among homeowners that the POTUS will eliminate the 30% federal tax credit (for solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy). For now, the tax credit is galvanized into the tax code, at the full 30%, through the end of 2019. We believe it is unlikely Congress (and then Trump) will abort the credit; perhaps we’re being overly naive! The safe bet, of course, is to lock it in in 2018.

5. Investment accounts: This one’s common … if I’m making less than 1% in my checking/money market account and I’m nervous about the stock market and my 401K, solar is an investment vehicle where I can confidently generate 12%+ annual returns. We agree, and the math is quite simple. 

6. I need a new roof: We are currently helping six homeowners who are replacing their roof and, in concert, installing solar panels. The timing is perfect to maximize and optimize warranties from the roof material and solar panel manufacturers (minimum of 25 years) and the roof and solar installation contractors (25 years). Importantly, we orchestrate the process (roof + solar) on behalf of homeowners.

7. Electric vehicle: This one’s a no-brainer, particularly if you plan to own your home for at least five years. Leveraging PG&E’s electric vehicle rate schedule (EV-A), our typical eV + solar homeowner only needs their solar system to generate ~80% of the electricity they use to offset 100% of their electricity costs. (Simple math: Your amortized cost to generate solar electricity is in the 8 cents per kWh range, and you will garner ~4 miles of charger per kWh … so, your cost to drive is ~2 cents per mile.)

Are we missing any obvious motivations (to go solar)? If so, please advise, or feel free to contact us if you’d like to amplify any (or all) of the above.

YoloShines: Yolo Crisis Nursery

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As we’ve shared, every time a homeowner goes solar we donate $500 to the local nonprofit of their choice. We call this program “YoloShines,” in great part because we believe nonprofit organizations are the underlying fabric of our community — they make it shine! — and, thereby, we have a responsibility to support such groups.

Over the past year, seven Repower homeowners have selected Yolo Crisis Nursery (YCN) for their YoloShines gift; hence, we had the fortune of donating $3,500 to YCN in 2017. In an effort to shine a light on YCN and engage the community to join us in our support, here’s a quick profile of the organization.

First, a story that amplifies the impact of YCN:

About one year ago, a distraught young mom named Jess first came the Yolo Crisis Nursery.  After the birth of Jess’s second child she was home alone with her newborn and her toddler, and realized she was having trouble caring for them both by herself.  Jess’s decision to call the Nursery probably saved her baby’s life.

Over the phone, YCN staff invited Jess to bring both children to the Nursery, where we could care for them at no cost and give her a much-needed break.  Once the family arrived, the situation took a dramatic turn.  Executive Director Heather Sleuter looked at the baby and saw that he was far too listless.  She asked when he had last been fed.  Jess said she could not remember.

Heather directed one of our caregivers to comfort and care for the toddler and then drove both the baby and Jess to the hospital. 

The emergency room staff attended to the child, successfully treating him for severe dehydration.  The doctor told us the baby had come within hours of death.  Meanwhile, Jess received the medical attention she needed.  County authorities made arrangements for both children to move into temporary foster care.

While county officials and Jess worked toward family reunification, her health stabilized and the children eventually returned home.  The family was then enrolled in YCN’s Family Life Skills Program.  A Nursery staff member visited the family’s home for two hours a week for 12 weeks for hands-on parenting education.  Families who complete our program significantly increase the likelihood that they will remain together,’

Today, a year later, this family is doing well.  Jess is working and the children are happily enrolled in day care and preschool.

Wow. Thanks to Cam Stoufer with YCN for sharing the story of lives saved and changed.

All organizations have a purpose … Why does Yolo Crisis Nursery exist? The mission of the Yolo Crisis Nursery is to provide early intervention services to nurture healthy and resilient children, strengthen parents and preserve families. Our vision is that every child in Yolo County grows up in a safe, loving and stable home. The Nursery’s overarching goal is to prevent child abuse and neglect among young vulnerable children by partnering emergency childcare with wrap-around services for families in trauma or crisis. In doing so we keep children safe and families whole in our community.

In 2017, Yolo Crisis Nursery’s accomplishments included:

  • Families receiving childcare services who did not become clients of CPS: 99%
  • Families linked to case management counseling and community resources: 267
  • Families completing referral to wrap-around services: 98%
  • Children served and childcare slots provided: 178 (individual count - up 45% over previous year) and 2,342

Very significantly, 98% of the families the Nursery serves do not become clients of Child Protective Services.

Now, our punchline ... here’s how you can help (monetarily, personally, professionally): Yolo Crisis Nursery is a 501c3 nonprofit organization (Tax ID #47-1006055) which welcomes support from individuals, businesses, foundations, service and faith-based organizations in our community.  The Nursery provides care packages to our families and in-kind support is always welcome in the form of diapers, formula, clothes toys and other items for children.  Volunteer service projects occur throughout the year to maintain and enhance the Nursery facility for our children and families.  Volunteer positions are available annually on the Board of Directors and ongoing as members of the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery, the fundraising and advocacy auxiliary of the Nursery.  Lastly, the community is invited to participate in the annual Krustaceans for Kids Crab Feed to support the Nursery’s programs.  This year the Crab Feed will be held on Saturday, March 24 at the Woodland Community and Senior Center from 6:00 to 9:00 pm.  Tickets and sponsorships are on sale now.  More information is available at: www.yolocrisisnursery.org.

Please join us in supporting Yolo Crisis Nursery, a shining light in our community.

Thinking about going solar? Five key considerations

There’s a lot of sunshine being monetized by our community. In Davis alone, one in four single family residences have solar PV systems (versus approximately 5% in PG&E territory). Such rapid adoption is driven by four factors: PG&E’s ever-escalating electricity rates, a sharp decline in the cost of solar systems, the 30% federal tax credit, and (increasingly) grand concerns about our climate and planet.

The formative stage of the Repower program involved extensive research. We assessed the quality, reliability and pricing of solar equipment; the efficacy of solar installation contractors; the pricing (through a group purchase program) of solar; the most viable financing options; and, the most systematic installation methodology. Since pulling the pieces together and enabling the Repower program, we have had the fortune of helping more homeowners in our community invest in solar than any other solar provider.

If you are pondering going solar, here are five key considerations:

1. How long do you intend to reside in your home? If your horizon is less than five years, think twice; if more than five (and given you have a de facto agreement with PG&E to purchase electricity), dig deep.

2. What is the condition (and remaining life) of your roof? Solar systems have a 25-year production warranty. Though it is possible (and common) to replace a roof with an existing solar system, if your roof’s remaining life is less than 10 years, you should consider replacing all or part (i.e., the portion under the solar panels) of your roof.

3. What are the installation contractor’s qualifications? Thereby, it’s critical to speak with local homeowners who have worked with the contractor. Furthermore, you should seek a 10-year workmanship warranty and ensure the installation contractor is financially solvent. Finally, the contractor’s experience with your type of roof is paramount.

4. Who manufacturers the solar panels and inverter(s)? The assessment herein is twofold: What is the efficacy and reliability of the products, and what is the financial solvency (i.e., strength of balance sheet) of the manufacturer, and thus the validity of their performance warranty. Bloomberg qualifies a dozen or so solar panel manufacturers as “Tier 1” or “investment grade” … make sure you’re purchasing a product from this class.

5. Who will own the system and/or how will you pay for it? Frankly, leasing a solar system — whereby your solar panels are owned by a third-party, tax equity fund — is a raw deal for homeowners. You should own your system. Many homeowners employ a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or credit union financing (Yolo Federal Credit Union) to finance their solar system. (Contact us if you would like to learn more about Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE] financing … we helped developed the first PACE programs in Sacramento and Yolo counties.)

 

At the end of the day, you'd like to know the likelihood your solar system will meet or exceed its energy forecast. Most solar companies use the same forecasting tools. It's the assumptions that feed these models that vary. You should feel confident the forecast presented is reasonable and not some pie-in-the-sky result. Hence, ask solar companies the proportion of systems installed that meet or exceed the originally forecast energy generation. (You should also ask the number of systems monitored to ensure it's a meaningful proportion.)

We do not have all the answers — there is no surefire, perfect solar solution — but we do have strong opinions and extensive experience in our community. Nobody wants to get a bad deal or make a short-sighted decision; filtering through the noise of pesky solar solicitations can be migraine-inducing. To wit, feel free to contact us if you need a hand.

YoloShines: Yolo Farm to Fork

As we've shared, Yolo Farm to Fork is one of our favorite (most appetizing?) nonprofits. Like many small, scrappy organizations, F2F does a lot with a little, and their impact spans generations.

With our YoloShines program, Repower homeowners select a local nonprofit organization to which we donate $500. When the selected organization is one of our faves, our donation has even more meaning.

To wit, we would like to thank Davis resident Kirk Mills and his family for choosing Yolo Farm to Fork, and we are proud to donate $500. Here's an encapsulation of why the Mills family selected F2F:

The video on Yolo Farm to Fork's website really spoke to our family. We value buying local produce because it's delicious (mostly), but also because we know it has only traveled a short distance to our local store thereby creating less pollution in the traveling process. The idea of schools using local produce is so exciting. Even more exciting is the concept of school gardens. We know first hand how excited our son gets about our garden at home and how it makes him want to eat what he grows. It is truly a gift to see our son so excited about something so beneficial and positive that he will carry through his whole life.

Thank you, Kirk, for making a difference in our community. Please join the Mills family and Repower in supporting Yolo Farm to Fork.

Solar Lease, R.I.P.

David Crane, former president & CEO of NRG Energy, is one of the solar industry's most prophetic and emphatic pundits. When he speaks, the industry (and analysts and investors) listen. Crane's latest opine in Tuesday's GreenBiz: TeslaCity: Will car company + solar company = shareholder happiness?

Worthy of a quick read, Crane lambasts national solar leasing companies (including SolarCity) for their fundamentally fragile business models, specifically their practice of "no money down solar leases." Quick anecdote:

But, most of all, SolarCity needed a quick phase-out of zero-money-down, long-term-lease financing, a funding arrangement which once was essential to the kickstarting of the entire industry, but has mutated into the crack cocaine of home solar companies that still depend upon it.

 

We receive calls -- probably two or three a day -- from either prospective solar homeowners who were propositioned a solar lease, or existing solar leaseholders (or their Realtors) who are trying to sell their home (with a leased solar system). Solar leases are sugary-sweet on the surface, but the hangover is brutal. 

I hope SolarCity survives -- we enjoy competing with them. Perhaps they'll figure out how to make money. But, leasing solar systems is a bad deal for homeowners, and potentially fatal for SolarCity and its leasing comrades (e.g., Sunrun, Sungevity, Vivint, et al). RIP, solar lease; Viva la vida, solar ownership!

Buying or selling a home with solar? Five questions to ask.

Buying or selling a home with a solar PV (electric) system should be a no-brainer: The solar system’s clean energy reduces the home’s electricity bills and, thereby, increases the value of the home. True, if you apply common sense and logic; not so fast, if you dig deeper.

One in five single family homes — 2,300-plus -- in Davis have solar PV systems. Solar is no longer an oddity: It is becoming an ante for homes in Davis.

RepowerYolo’s objective is to help 1,000 homeowners reduce the cost and simplify the process of going solar. Concurrently, over the past few years we have helped dozens of Yolo County home buyers, home sellers and their Realtors assess existing solar systems. To wit, here are five fundamental questions to engage in evaluating the viability and value of a solar system before you buy or sell a home:

1. Ownership: Who owns the solar system? 

If the existing home owner purchased the solar system, you’re in good shape. Congratulations. If not, buyer beware, particularly if the solar system was leased (i.e., installed at no cost to the homeowner, and owned by a third-party, tax equity fund). Approximately 60% of solar systems in California are leased and, upon sale of the home, either the home buyer opts in to the remaining term of the lease, or the home seller buys out the system. Action item: Review the solar lease documentation to determine the transfer and buy-out options.

In addition to homeowner-owned and -leased solar systems, a growing number of solar systems have been funded through Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, employing the property tax system. In these scenarios, homeowners pay an annual assessment — typically over 20 years — to finance the improvement to their property. The special assessment may transfer to the new home owner (upon sale), though it’s not certain. Action item: Learn if any energy-saving improvements have been financed via PACE and, if so, the amount of the annual assessment and whether it can be transferred.

2. Equipment: Who manufactured the solar panels and inverter(s), what are the remaining warranties, and what’s the financial condition of the manufacturers? 

Of the several hundred companies that manufacture solar panels, only one-dozen or so are qualified as Tier 1 (or investment grade) by Bloomberg, evidencing their financial stability. Most solar panels have 10-year product and 25-year performance warranties. Likewise, there are a handful of high-quality inverter manufacturers, and most inverters have 10-12 year product warranties. Action item: Review product warranties, assess the financial stability of the providers/manufacturers, and ensure the warranties are transferable.

3. Installation: Who installed the solar system, what is the installation contractor’s workmanship warranty, and is it transferable?

We believe its imperative for homeowners to receive a 10-year workmanship warranty from solar installation contractors. Unfortunately, myriad solar systems have been installed in our community sans such protection. Action item: Review the contractor’s warranty, determine if they are in business, and ensure their warranty is transferable.

4. Performance: How is the solar system performing, and how much money is it saving each year?

This is simple: Review the solar system’s historical electricity generation via either its monitoring system or its inverter, and compare to its forecast. And, download and review PG&E net-energy metering data to determine the solar system’s annual savings. 

5. Details: Was the system properly permitted and interconnected to the grid?

Again, basic stuff: Review the building permit — if it’s not available, call the building department to ensure no permits are unsigned — and the PG&E interconnection agreement. There should be no surprises.

RepowerYolo provides complementary solar system assessments — employing the above five steps — for a select group of Realtors in our community. If and when you are buying or selling a home with solar, feel free to contact us or your Realtor to learn more.

There is no urgency to go solar, except …

It happens too many times each week: Homeowners relay stories about aggravating and misleading solar sales tactics. Three common examples:

1. I was told I have to go solar now because the tax credit’s gonna expire.

Erroneous. Next time you flip on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ll hear an ad exerting that Uncle Sam’s gonna stop giving away free money. First, not true. Second, nothing’s free. Importantly, the 30% solar tax credit was extended through 2021. The tax credit’s not going away.

2. Sam the solar sales guy said PG&E’s net-metering program is about to go away.

Rubbish. As we’ve shared, on January 28, 2016, the California Public Utilities Commission — against the wish of PG&E — expanded the solar net-metering program. The cap was doubled from 5% (of PG&E’s peak demand energy coming from net-metered solar) to 10%. Net metering is not going away.

3. If I go solar by (fill in the blank with a date), I will get a (fill in the blank with a dollar amount) discount.

Insulting. The money has to come from somewhere — the customer, ya think? — and it’s a common psychological sales tactic to employ discounts (buried in the price you pay) to create urgency. Don’t buy in to it.

RepowerYolo has had the fortune of helping more homeowners in our community invest in solar than any other solar company over the past few years. In so doing, we have not spent a dime on sales, marketing, advertising, etcetera … instead, the savings are passed on to homeowners via our group buy program.

So, there’s no urgency — i.e., soon-to-perish financial incentives -- to go solar? Not necessarily. The urgency we see is very straightforward: Once a homeowner is comfortable with the efficacy and reliability of the solar system, the quality of the installation contractor and their workmanship warranty, and the economics (investment and future energy savings), they proceed. After all — to quote many Repower homeowners — why continue writing checks to PG&E when solar is the right and prudent thing to do?

YoloShines: Yolo Food Bank

The next time you have some spare change, consider this: A $1 donation to the Yolo Food Bank will fund three meals for a hungry Yolo County neighbor. Or, the $1 will magnify to $5.50 in wholesale food purchases. Like fresh produce? Your $1 will buy seven pounds of fruits and veggies.

Not to lay on the guilt, but here are two sobering facts to ponder:

- More than 20% (44,000) of Yolo County residents do not have enough to eat.

- One in four children do not know where their next meal will come from.

Enter Yolo Food Bank, one of our favorite community organizations. We have had the fortune of working with the Food Bank over the past year. On behalf of RepowerYolo homeowners, we have donated more than $5,000 to the Food Bank.

The latest: In the name of Repower homeowners Matt and Holly Bishop, Ron and Andrea Forrest, Elaine Lau and Carlton Larson, and Kathleen and Michael Rockwell, we donated $2,000 last week to the Food Bank. That’s 6,000 meals for hungry neighbors thanks to the YoloShines program.

Every dollar makes a difference, and we’re endeavoring to elevate our support for the Food Bank in 2016. Please join us in working to reduce hunger in Yolo County: Click here to donate, or you can learn more about volunteering here.