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Jan. 15, 2021

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Energy Adviser: Solar panels can earn credits from utility

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Solar panels have been demonstrated to be long-lasting, cost-effective and emissions-free tools to reduce home energy expenses all year long.

“Photovoltaic energy has proven itself, even to its harshest critics, as a solid investment for many home and business owners in the Pacific Northwest,” said Clark Public Utilities Key Accounts Manager Bart Hansen. “Solar panels are a significant investment and we’re happy to help our customers learn as much as they need to feel confident when considering an installation on their homes or businesses.”

For many, the most attractive aspect of solar is the offsetting of a home’s energy consumption and the potential to earn credits from the utility. Through a process called “net metering,” a property owner produces more energy than they can use and sends the excess to the utility for a credit of an equal rate toward their next bill.

For example, a person who purchases 18,000 kilowatt hours of electricity from the utility during a year would be a “net zero” energy consumer if their solar arrays produce that same amount of electricity in a year. A customer can only generate more electricity and build a credit from month to month or season to season, but not year to year. So it’s important to build the system at the right size.

While some energy companies begrudgingly accept solar arrays in their community, Clark Public Utilities strongly supports their presence. Not only are they a clean, renewable resource, they can help ease stress on the local grid during periods of peak demand.

For many, the biggest drawback of solar panels is the upfront cost. There are many variables that will influence the price, but the average homeowner should expect to pay between $10,000 and $45,000 for a residential array. So, think of solar panels as you would any other major purchase.

Many contractors operate in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, so it’s a good idea to do your research and shop around before committing to any vendor or project design.

“Treat it like a job interview,” Hansen said. “Have a list of questions ready, pay careful attention to the differences in their replies, and watch out for any high-pressure sales techniques or offers that sound too good to be true. Remember: this is a major investment in what is likely the most valuable asset you own, so take your time and weigh your options carefully.”

Any reputable contractor will tell you that there are only two solar energy incentives currently available: the Washington state sales tax exemption and the federal tax incentive. The federal tax credit of 26 percent off the total cost of the panels is set to expire at the end of 2020 and will be reduced to 22 percent on Jan. 1. The federal incentive will expire entirely on Dec. 31, 2021.

The utility doesn’t install residential solar arrays and does not send representatives or salespersons to customer homes or businesses to sell or promote solar. Any outreach to customers is conducted by private contractors separate from the utility, though we are available to homeowners and contractors to answer questions and help facilitate the installation of net-metered solar.

Clark Public Utilities maintains a contractor network by program, such as weatherization, heating and solar, to make sure the installations meet the highest standards of safety, efficacy and customer service. Participation in the network is not an endorsement, guarantee or warranty of any kind but does indicate that participating contractors have provided proof of licensing, bonding and insurance. For that list and much more, visit clarkpublicutilities.com and search “solar.”

To find out more about solar panels, contact Hansen. He manages the residential net metering program for the utility and is available to answer questions during business hours by phone at 360-992-3244 or email at bhansen@clarkpud.com.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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