Home and business solar arrays are steadily gaining in popularity in Clark County, but prospective buyers should carefully consider their circumstances and options before signing on a contractor’s dotted line.
“Installing solar can make a lot of sense and be a good investment, but it’s important that customers considering a solar system check with Clark Public Utilities prior to signing a contract with an installer,” said Ashley King, Energy Services Program Coordinator with Clark Public Utilities. “We are here to help our customers make sound renewable energy investments.”
Home solar, also called distributed energy solar systems in the industry, is a significant investment in a highly specialized product. Sometimes, it can be hard for the average person to feel like they’re getting an unbiased read on their property’s potential when meeting with a salesman for the first time. Clark Public Utilities recommends a relatively simple three-step process to discover if solar is right for you and how to select the right contractor.
Step one: Research — the autodidact’s favorite. Several industry tools offer clear and helpful information about the potential solar generation at a person’s home. Google offers the “Project Sunroof” website that uses Google Earth information to analyze your roof and identify how many “sun-hours” it receives on average in a year. Also, the National Renewable Energy Labs offers an online tool called the “PVWatts Calculator” that estimates how much electricity your theoretical solar array could generate.
Because Clark County is located high on the globe, the sun is on our southern horizon for the bulk of the year. That means solar panels should only be installed on southern-facing exposures of a roof or property. Panels installed facing west are the second best design option, and panels facing east or north are not recommended. Tree blockage south of your roof line has the potential to negatively impact solar generation.
“Despite our relatively high latitude, Clark County is a good area for solar production, an increasingly popular renewable resource,” said Energy Resources Program Manager Matt Babbitts. “As of the end of 2022 there are approximately 17.5 megawatts-worth of customer-owned solar production capacity in Clark County.”
Step two: Go for bids. Clark Public Utilities encourages all customers to get at least three bids from solar installers listed on the Clark Public Utilities Contractor Network. A competitively priced solar system should be between $2.50 to $4 per watt.
But don’t let price alone dictate your selection; reputation matters too. Look online for customer reviews and even complaints with the Better Business Bureau, or regulatory agencies. Clark Public Utilities does not sell solar systems; any installers claiming to be utility employees should be asked to leave your home. Please report these contractors to Clark Public Utilities by calling 360-992-3000.
Step three: Once you have your contractor bids, use the Solar Payback Calculator via the MyAccount areas of clarkpublicutilities.com or the solar page of the main website to estimate your annual solar electricity generation and a potential return on investment.
Clark Public Utilities offers net metering for those customers with solar arrays. This benefit provides the retail rate credit for each kilowatt-hour they produce, whether the electricity is consumed at the customer home or delivered back to the utility grid.
On average, and with good southern exposure, each 1 kilowatt of installed solar panel capacity will produce about 1,150 kilowatt hours annually.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.