Our solar panel adventure has not turned out quite how I planned.
When we first started looking into them we spoke directly to two companies. Company 1 was very salesy and tried to give us a system that was going to cost $16,000 after incentives and would produce about 50% of our current energy consumption. The second company proposed a smaller system that was going to cost $8,414 after government incentives and would produce 40% of our current energy consumption.
I learned that if you don’t have the panels facing the right direction (south) or if they’re in the shade (even the shade from higher sections of your roof) they don’t produce very much. The first company had panels all over the roof in shady parts and nooks and crannies, which doubled the price of our system but only increased production by 10%. The choice was obvious – so we went with Company 2.
These were the projections for you number people out there.
The financing went something like this: the NYSERDA incentive was just off the top, we didn’t have to do anything. The $10,285 Federal and State incentives (at 30% and 20% respectively, note that these are scheduled to decrease in the future) were to be given to us after we filed our taxes, so we took out a GreenSky loan. It’s the kind of loan I never take out – 0% financing for a year and then 18% APR. But it wouldn’t matter because the money would come back our way after filing taxes and we could pay off the loan and be on our way. The remaining $8,414 was our responsibility. NYSERDA has a pretty fantastic loan program where you pay 3.49% interest, so it’s a lot like a tiny mortgage. For us, it still ends up saving us money off our electricity bill – we’re just paying a loan instead.
Note that this projection is a cash purchase projection to make it look better than it is – if you’re paying interest the numbers aren’t quite as shiny.
I think it’s funny they’re called “solar systems.”
We were psyched to get our system but were told we’d have to wait a while, which we did. Then they were able to start sooner, then they stopped, then started again. The installers were very friendly with our kids who followed them around like ducklings and asked questions incessantly.
There was paperwork flying all over the place – missing signatures on things and general disorganization. I was sent invoices I shouldn’t have received, asked to sign documents twice, and asked for paperwork back that I never got in the first place. Somewhere in there I had a baby and the system was turned on – it’s kind of a blur. Also in the baby-having I put the final loan document in a pile of papers by the phone and forgot I had received it.
The conduit from the roof leaked water twice and was fixed. It was repaired quickly, but water and electricity made us a little nervous. My husband lost confidence in the installation from that experience.
A few weeks ago I found the document and with some trepidation sent it in, thinking I’d have a bunch of late payments. I received back a letter saying it had been processed, the loan was now in effect and my first payment was due in a month.
The second our W-2s came in I started on our taxes because I am debt-averse and was eager to pay off the GreenSky loan. As I entered everything into our tax software, the numbers didn’t work out like I expected. Our “rebate” from the Federal and State governments totaled around $3,000 not $10,000.
I spent two hours on hold with our tax software company and finally gave up. Then I spent a while on the phone with the IRS but they no longer offer phone support on most topics. I went online and found out that it’s common for solar companies to imply that you’ll receive everything back with your tax refund, but it doesn’t work that way. The credit is actually based on your liability. So if you owe $3,000 in taxes, you just don’t have to pay it (if you don’t get the full amount the first year, it does roll over to subsequent years). The Federal Government doesn’t write you a check like the Earned Income Tax Credit. According to the NYSERDA guy, this is “all over our website” but it was not all over the website of our contractor, in our quote (see above), or in anything else we read.
Our entire solar panel financing was based on the idea that we would receive the Federal and State Incentives this year. Apparently this is common in “neighborhoods like ours.” I guess the number of children we have (uncommon in neighborhoods like ours) was overlooked.
So if you don’t owe a ton of money in Federal and State income taxes, think long and hard about solar panels. It’s another thing that’s set up to benefit those with a little more income and fewer children.
I called NYSERDA and because I had lost that paperwork and hadn’t made a payment yet, they were able to amend the loan and add another $4,000 to the total. We still have to come up with $3,000 that we weren’t expecting to though, which is a bummer. It was also emotional to be put in a compromised financial situation because of misinformation and assumptions. Should I have done more research? Probably – but I thought I understood how it worked.
Having said that, I’m still really thankful we have them, I just wish the experience had been more positive so I could rave about the installers we used, but I can’t. I would highly recommend solar panels with the current incentives – just do your research and be sure to crunch the numbers yourselves so you know what you’re getting into. Also, many states don’t have the incentives and loan programs New York does, so in states with more sun but fewer incentives it may be even less financially beneficial.
So what do you think – what would pave the way for you to go solar?