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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Is solar array right for your home? Lots to consider

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:06am

The advertisements and the door-to-door salesmen often have a sales pitch that makes home solar sound too good for anyone to pass up.

The truth, however, is usually more complicated. While it’s true a home solar array can reduce your monthly electric bill, help you be more energy independent and lower your carbon footprint, it has to be the right size and installed in the right location. How long it’ll take to break even on that investment also depends on several factors that are unique to every household.

“As a utility, we’re very supportive of customer-owned solar, and we want to help customers understand their options and decide whether it’ll be a good fit for them,” said Ashley King, Clark Public Utilities Energy Services Program coordinator. “Solar can be a great option in the right circumstances, but people should be very clear-eyed about what’s possible at their property and the financial commitments they’re making when investing in an array.”

It can be a challenge to find unbiased information about solar. Few people have friends or relatives who can give a personal account of owning an array. Plus, there aren’t many reliable online resources specific to using it in the Pacific Northwest.

Potential solar buyers often rely on a solar salesperson or contractor for guidance, but enough solar customers were burned by unscrupulous solar advertisements and salesmen that the state Legislature recently passed a new consumer protection law.

When the Washington Solar Consumer Protection Act takes effect in June, salespeople or a contractor will have to make numerous disclosures to potential customers, including an itemized total installation cost and a written estimate of the projected energy bill savings in the first year after installation. The bill was supported by the solar industry’s trade association, electric utilities and the state Department of Commerce. Anybody considering solar should familiarize themselves with the new law and use its checklist when listening to a sales pitch.

Clark Public Utilities created the Solar Energy Program, commonly referred to as the Net Metering Program, to help utility customers understand their property’s solar potential, available tax and net-metering incentives, and guidance on how to make an informed decision when selecting a contractor. Plus, utility staff are always available to answer questions. To get started, visit clarkpublicutilities.com/rooftopsolar.

When looking for a solar contractor, the Clark Public Utilities Contractor Network offers a list of contractors who meet the requirements for participating in utility programs. The network isn’t a recommendation, guarantee of service or warranty of any kind, but it’s a good place to start when looking for installers. Always get at least three bids and the details in writing.

A competitively priced bid is typically about $2.50 to $3.50 per installed watt, but price shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor. 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. Report these contractors to Clark Public Utilities by calling 360-992-3000.

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.

“Although we’re pretty high on the globe, Clark County has decent solar production potential,” King said. “We have more than 3,000 solar customers who generate their own energy every day.”

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.