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Aug. 1, 2021

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Energy Adviser: Weigh options before going solar

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When it comes to lowering your energy consumption and reducing your carbon footprint, photovoltaic power is tough to beat — even in the cloudy Pacific Northwest. But, as with any significant investment in your home or business, it’s wise to consider your circumstances and weigh your options carefully.

While some energy companies reluctantly accommodate customer-owned solar arrays, Clark Public Utilities embraces them. They’re an efficient and affordable, renewable resource that can help ease stress on the local grid during periods of peak demand.

“Solar panels have proven themselves to be long-lasting, cost-effective and emissions-free investments for many home and business owners whom we serve,” said Clark Public Utilities Key Accounts Manager Bart Hansen. “But we realize all the options and information can get overwhelming, so we’re happy to help our customers learn all they need to feel confident throughout the process.”

Purchasing a solar array is similar to buying a car. It brings with it many benefits, but it’s also a significant investment. The exact cost will depend on your home’s or business’s circumstances, but you can expect to invest anywhere from $15,000 to $45,000.

A properly sized solar array in the right location could substantially reduce its owner’s energy expenses over the long term. For example, a person who annually purchases 20,000 kilowatt hours of electricity would become a “net zero” energy consumer if their solar panels produce that same amount of electricity in a year.

Utility solar customers enjoy “net metering” where any excess power their system generates above their home’s consumption is returned to the grid for an equal credit toward their next bill. However, a customer can only generate more electricity and build credits from month to month or season to season, not year to year. That’s why it’s important to right-size the system to the property’s typical consumption, and not be swayed by a vendor who may urge you to over-build.

And, as with a car purchase, there are many local businesses that are eager to sell you one and who come to the interaction with their own ideas of what you may need. That’s why it’s wise to shop around, compare quotes and look into the history and reputation of the companies you may want to work with.

“There are a number of contractors in our area, but you don’t want to give your business to just any one of them,” Hansen said. “Prepare a list of questions ahead of time and make notes of their responses so you can compare them later. Also, beware of any high-pressure sales techniques or offers that sound too good to be true. Any reputable company won’t use them.”

An honest contractor will be clear that there is only one solar energy incentive available today: the federal tax incentive. The federal tax credit is equal to 26 percent of the total cost but was granted a two-year extension.

All solar panel installations are conducted by private contractors. Clark Public Utilities doesn’t install customer solar arrays and never sends representatives or salespersons out to promote them. However, we are available to answer questions and help facilitate the installation of a net-metered array.

Hansen 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.

Customers can also find a list of local solar companies on the utility’s contractor network. Businesses that participate agree to ensure their installations meet the utility’s high standards of safety, efficacy and customer service. Participation in the network is not an endorsement, guarantee or warranty, but it 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.”


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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