Home­own­ers soak up the sun’s rays to save money

So­larCity’s Wal­dorf of­fice in­stalls 200 solar sys­tems monthly

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Af­ter see­ing fam­ily mem­bers sav­ing money on their elec­tric bills, Jerome Spears of Char­lotte Hall de­cided to take the plunge and get solar pan­els in­stalled on his garage.

“I waited. My un­cle, which is the house fur­ther up the road, he had it done first,” Spears said, point­ing around the neigh­bor­hood of mostly fam­ily mem­bers who have built homes on the land once farmed by his grand­fa­ther. “Then my cousin over there, she had it done; then my cousin, here (he points across the road), he had it done.

“My cousin’s house over there is gi­gan­tic and it’s to­tally elec­tric. He said that, dur­ing the sum­mer months, his elec­tric bill from just air con­di­tion­ing runs around $1,200 to $1,400 a month. This year, his elec­tric bill was like $190 for one month.”

His cousin’s home is quite a bit larger than his one-story rancher and sup­ports a larger solar ar­ray. Spears is get­ting a 10 kilo­watt sys­tem put on the un­at­tached garage next to the house and hopes to save on his elec­tric heat­ing bill this win­ter.

“In the win­ter months, we have a hor­ren­dous power bill,” he said. “It’s ter­ri­ble — ev­ery­thing’s elec­tric. It was just a no-brainer — any­thing to cut that power bill. We have an $800 to $900 pow- er bill a month. That’s the win­ter­time months, and it doesn’t usu­ally get bet­ter un­til about June.

“I ex­pect to save a few hun­dred dol­lars,” he added. “I’ve got a 17-year-old son who’s get­ting ready to go to col­lege, this is his last year in high school, so ev­ery nickel that we can save we’re go­ing to need.”

Spears isn’t alone. The Wal­dorf re­gional of­fice of So­larCity — just one of the solar sys­tem in­stall­ers in the re­gion — has been in­stalling 200 sys­tems a month in South­ern Mary- land, which for them in­cludes a por­tion of Prince Ge­orge’s County. In the three South­ern Mary­land coun­ties — Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s — So­larCity cur­rently has over 1,500 cus­tomers and has in­stalled more than 15,000 kilo­watts.

“Ev­ery month has been our big­gest month, pretty much for 10 years now,” said Ryan Sil­ver­nale, the re­gional op­er­a­tions man­ager who runs the Wal­dorf of­fice. “There’s been rapid growth [in solar in­stal­la­tions] through­out the coun­try, es­pe­cially in Mary­land.”

He has be­tween seven and 10 crews out work­ing each day, de­pend­ing on the day of the week, and has a lit­tle over 100 em­ploy­ees.

He said the av­er­age sys­tem size in­stalled by So­larCity in Mary­land is 10 kilo­watts, but East Coast-wide it’s around seven kilo­watts. The com- pany, which was founded in 2006, is head­quar­tered in San Ma­teo, Calif., and has res­i­den­tial solar sys­tem in­stal­la­tions in 19 states, though it also in­stalls larger, megawatt com­mer­cial sys­tems.

“We’re the largest solar com­pany in pretty much ever y sec­tor of solar in the countr y,” said Lee Keshishian, vice pres­i­dent of East Coast op­er­a­tions. He said the com­pany re­cently in­stalled a 15-megawatt sys­tem in Wye Mills in Queen Anne’s County for Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine in Bal­ti­more. The project is ex­pected to off­set about 18 per­cent of the to­tal en­ergy Johns Hop­kins fa­cil­i­ties use.

On the res­i­den­tial side, the com­pany of­fers dif­fer­ent pack­ages to suit in­di­vid­ual home­own­ers, such as out­right cash pur­chase and a rel­a­tively new zero-down loan setup. In both, the home­owner owns the sys­tem, gets di­rect sav­ings from a re­duced elec­tric bill — with the pos­si­bil­ity of sell­ing ex­cess power into the elec­tric­ity grid — and can take ad­van­tage of tax cred­its. The sys­tem is war­rantied by So­larCity. Keshishian said in a phone in­ter view that a 10 kilo­watt sys­tem costs $30,000 to $35,000, and a seven kilo­watt sys­tem runs in the neigh­bor­hood of $24,000.

“We’ve got a new prod­uct that’s go­ing to be re­ally, re­ally good for a lot of home­own­ers,” Sil­ver­nale said of the loan plan. “It’s called ‘solar loan,’ in­stead of lease. It gives all the same ben­e­fits of zero money down — you save money from day one — but now you also, be­cause it’s a loan and you own the sys­tem, you get to re­ceive the tax in­cen­tives as well at the end of the year. You can get up to a cou­ple thou­sand dol­lars back on your tax re­turn.”

The other op­tions are a “power pur­chase agree­ment” and the lease plan Sil­ver­nale men­tioned. With both choices, So­larCity re­mains the owner of the sys­tem and is re­spon­si­ble for re­pairs. With the PPA, a home­owner pays for the power pro­duced, per kilo­watt, usu­ally at or be­low the rate charged by the lo­cal power com­pany. With the leas­ing op­tion, the home­owner pays a fixed monthly cost over 20 years based on how much power the sys- tem pro­duces in a year, Keshishian said in phone in­ter­view.

“The goal here is to get [the sys­tem] to cost next to noth­ing,” Keshishian said. “Any pay­ment you have is less than the cost of the power you save [from the elec­tric com­pany].” He said most peo­ple choose the lease op­tion but those with higher in­comes who are able to take ad­van­tage of the tax cred­its may find the loan op­tion more valu­able.

“They both get you to a place that you get the sys­tem in­stalled for free,” he said.

No mat­ter the pack­age, So­larCity de­signs and in­stalls the sys­tem, in­clud­ing lin­ing up out­side con­trac­tors as nec­es­sar y and han­dling per­mits and fees.

“Ev­ery step that they do, they’re con­stantly email­ing me, let­ting me know what pro­cess they’re go­ing through,” Spears said. “Even if it doesn’t in­volve me to do any­thing, they keep me en­light­ened to what­ever is go­ing on.”

He said he de­cided on So­larCity af­ter read­ing a lot of re­views on­line and hasn’t been dis­ap­pointed, so far. “It seems to be a pretty good com­pany,” he added.

“These guys started this morning at 7:30 a.m.,” Sil­ver­nale said while watch­ing his crew add solar pan­els to the garage roof. “A sys­tem like this, a 10 kW sys­tem on a low [roof] pitch — the lower the pitch, the eas­ier the guys can move around — it’ll take them about a half a day. They’ll be pulling out of here by 1 or 2 o’clock.”

With the tem­per­a­tures drop­ping through the fall, Spears said he’s look­ing for ward to sav­ing some money on heat­ing soon.

“We’re re­ally look­ing for some sav­ings,” he said. “The [So­larCity] guys were good and re­ally worked with me.

“The house is paid for, now,” the car buff added. “I hope that I can re­tire and sit and clean up all my cars all day long — and just en­joy life.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Dave Stran­dell, left, of Hol­ly­wood, Md., and Dey­onta Gross of Lex­ing­ton Park in­stall a 10 kilo­watt solar sys­tem on a garage roof Oct. 19 in Char­lotte Hall.

Ryan Sil­ver­nale is the re­gional op­er­a­tions man­ager for So­larCity’s Wal­dorf of­fice. He and his teams in­stall 200 solar sys­tems a month.

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