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Solar is Solar, it’s all the same! Right?

Posted on: April 14, 2016

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Bruce Howard – Energy by Choice

It happens all the time. It seems to occur with more and more frequency. You’re at your kid’s soccer game or even walking by the copier at work and you hear someone say it again – “I had the guy out last night, we’re going solar!” The conversation seems to take on a life of its own. A crowd forms. A flurry of questions ensues followed by enticing statements and unbelievable numbers. Someone always offers the tale of their cousin that went solar and he swears that leases are better than a PPA. Or the guy at the end of the cul de sac who paid cash to have his custom engineered– he doesn’t have any bill anymore! Sighs and the typical salutation of “let me know how it goes” signal the end of this solar roundtable. Everyone moves on in various states of curiosity.

Homeowners speak about “solar” in a generic manner not seen since the advent of cellular phones and the refinancing boom. It can’t be helped. Although solar technology has been around for decades a number of larger, national solar companies have sprouted up recently that advertise heavily on TV, radio and may have knocked on your door during dinner. The pitch of “zero out of pocket” and “$25 PSEG bills” are attractive, but their cookie cutter approach to solar power has left many homeowners disenchanted since they were never made aware of all the aspects of a solar project. Many homeowners never stopped to think, ‘what do they really want to get out of going solar anyway?’

Solar is not just solar! When solar works it is a marriage of the right technology with the right financing installed by an experienced contractor you trust. Here is a brief overview of the aspects of “going solar” that vary greatly from panel to panel and company to company that will influence the technical and financial outcome of your project.

The Finances of Solar:
Will leasing the equipment be best for you or will financing the purchase of your system give you a better ROI? While owning the system gives vastly greater returns this decision is based almost exclusively on your tax appetite. Working homeowners with taxable income will be able to utilize the30% Federal Income Tax Credit (ITC) and discount the purchase price of their system significantly. This is not available to homeowners who lease their equipment. Since the Federal ITC goes to the system owner, the finance company gets that 30% credit in a lease. Leases are useful to people who are not looking to get maximum tax advantage from their transition to solar. Typically, retired homeowners do not typically have tax liabilities. For them, leasing is a great way to cap electricity expenses. The New York State ITC (caps at $5,000) is available to all homeowners that go solar in New York State, regardless of whether system is leased or owned. Latest studies indicate more people are choosing to own their solar system.

Think long term. While a low monthly solar payment looks enticing, those savings can quickly evaporate with annual escalators. Larger, national solar companies use escalators in a generic approach to finance. With your monthly payment raising 1.5% or even 2.9% annually you will not see much value in switching from PSEG (LIPA) since historically most local utilities average less than 4.5% increases per annum. Insist on a fixed rate loan or a lease with 0% escalator. The term of your payments is critical. With leasing – you will always be paying. While the lease payments are typically for 20 years and predictable, it never goes away. At the end of the lease term you either remove it or lease a new system. Leases do not allow for the purchase of the system except upon sale of the property. In a financed purchase the payments stop when the system is paid off. From that day on the homeowner enjoys payment free use of the system. There are premium systems that are reliably producing power for more than 30 years.

The majority of residential solar systems that are purchased by the homeowner are financed. Not only do you utilize both Federal and NYS ITCs, you can select the type of financing that fits your financial plan. There are several commercial and NYS subsidized loans available depending on credit worthiness and desired term of loan. Terms vary from 5 years to 20 with rates starting as low as 3.49% for typical borrowers and lower rates for those with FICO scores above 750. Many customers actually pay their systems off early increasing their ROI. Recent Department of Energy research confirms that homeowners who own their solar system enjoy increased value upon resale. Increased value in the area of $4.00 per kilowatt is typical. Leased solar does not always perform as well at resale of the property. Appraisal Institute and National Association of Realtors findings are similar. Consult with your tax professional to see which gives you the greatest benefits.

Solar Technology:
Then there is the technology itself, the panels, inverters and racking, the physical components that transform homeowners from consumers to producers. Your solar panel uses photovoltaic cells to capture light and convert it into electric power. There are hundreds of Photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers. Some are giant electronic manufacturers that make everything from smartphones and refrigerators to solar panels. Many of these have recently entered the market because of the increasing demand for solar power. Then there is the established research- and science-based companies bringing innovation and durability to the market. Mass produced panels manufactured with price point as the key feature offer only limited warranties and are often categorized as Conventional (or Standard) Efficiency panels. Panels from the older, technology based companies often offer greater reliability and production due to scientific research, testing and customer feedback collected over decades. These panels are considered Premium (or High Efficiency) Panels and their pricing reflect the consumer’s preference for performance and time-tested reliability. Premium panels are easily recognizable; they are the panels that have all-inclusive warranties (labor & shipping included) and would offer a performance warranty over 85% stated production at 25 years.

It is worth it to consider premium panels even if you are attempting to save as much as possible upfront. They produce more power now and over time. Aesthetics are considered better on some of the high end panels’ better grade of materials and even all black modules are used with low profile racking systems. Looking good is important! As the residential solar market continues to mature quality makes a greater impact both for power production and at resale of the property. Quality and reliability come under scrutiny when prospective buyers are involved since they will most likely be the ones to use the warranty.

 

Installers:
As far as your individual application use a local contractor. Local firms are usually most responsive and experienced with building and safety codes and if something does go awry, they are local! Feedback suggests that most homeowners feel more comfortable dealing with an experienced, local installer instead of national firms chiefly because this is a long term investment. Whomever you choose, ask for references, read reviews and go see their work. Some sustainability advocates assert that using local firms consumes fewer resources and keeps money in the local economy while it reduces local unemployment.

In conclusion, while solar is widely seen as an expensive and new technology it is neither. Government and industry have leveraged solar power for decades and now incentives and widespread adoption of solar is seen as benefit to the environment as well as homeowners. For the greatest energy independence remember to:

• Check with your tax pro and see if leasing or owning is a better strategy.
• No escalators! Use fixed rate financing for your solar project.
• Quality doesn’t cost extra – It actually pays dividends in production and resale value.
• Ask for references

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Reviews

  • Matt Wantagh

    Sail and Bruce were awesome, making 5 visits to our home. We wanted to go with a local company instead of one of the big companies. We have not been disappointed with our choice. I highly recommend Energy By Choice! Tell them Matt sent you!

  • Ralph Smithtown

    We are extremely happy with our experience with Energy By Choice. The entire process went smoothly. No pressure sales. Went over all the options. Great customer service. Great installation. Couldn’t be happier!

  • Joe West Babylon

    Great Installation, Great Company, Great People. This is the first time I’ve ever dealt with a contractor and the estimate was exactly the same as the proposal !!!. No out of pocket expense. By the way I interviewed 8 companies. Energy by Choice was a pleasure to deal with. No buying pressure. My solar has been installed for 16 months. My electric bill was $350 a month. My connection charges average $12 a month. I’m saving $338 a month!

  • Mike Bethpage

    Very professional. They helped set up the financing, the permits and gave me the system that I wanted. After all the incentives I paid $16,000, but my bill is still over $100 cheaper than my budget payment. They also follow up with suggestions on how to get the most from your system. Sail’s the best.

  • Kyle Smithtown

    Great company, a pleasure to deal with. Low pressure and high quality.

  • Jennifer East Northport

    We had a wonderful experience with Energy by Choice. They were professional, clean, and extremely honest. Speaking from experience, we researched solar for months and I highly recommend this company. Thank you for everything Sail and team!

  • Laura Huntington

    Sail thank you so much for addressing my concerns so promptly and so completely. I have to tell you that the more my husband and I deal with your company, the more confident we are that we made the right decision in choosing you as our solar company and look forward to working with you.

  • Judy Mineola

    Helpful, honest; enjoyed the experience of the office personnel, (no pressure) from initial phone inquiry to certificate of completion. Getting better than half the cost returned from the State & Federal Gov. helped even more. Only thing left is to reap the rewards of the investment of our home & future. I would recommend Energy By Choice as a preference over the other companies who tried to push & sell their products to us.

  • Mary Massapequa Park

    All staff were very professional, friendly and knowledgeable. Sail is enthusiastic and passionate about the product. I didn’t feel pressured, but I was also given a very complete evaluation and comprehensive plan for the project. Since completion of the project, the company has continued to stay in touch. I feel like a member of a club.

  • Arlene Commack

    We met with Sail and he answered all of our questions and concerns. Sail put together a proposal that was perfect for our home and we’re so glad we had his expertise and knowledge to work from. We interviewed another national solar company who was offering a plan that would not have met our needs and would have been a financial disaster for us. Thanks again to Sail and his team of experts. We love our solar panels and, even more so, we love watching the meter run backwards!

  • Matt Wantagh

    We finally did it! We signed up for a new solar energy system with Energy By Choice. Bruce Howard and Sail Van Nostrand (the sales rep and owner) were terrific to deal with, and I would highly recommend to anyone thinking about converting to solar power!

  • Mike Mazol

    I just had my Solar Panel System installed this week. From the start of the process with Sail, and Steve and his crew at the end, it was totally professional. Steve and his team worked in a clean and safe manner and were definitely one of the best contractor teams I’ve had the pleasure to work with. At times you wouldn’t even know they were here doing the system. If you are thinking about getting Solar Power, I would highly recommend using Energy By Choice as the company to do the work.

  • Ernie Calverton

    I have been extremely happy with the service I received from this company and the way they treated me from the first call. They were incredibly patient, professional, and prompt from the start. The installation took one day, and when I got home the area had been cleaned up and looked good, and the system has been working incredibly well since then, with no problems whatsoever. I would recommend them to anyone.

  • Sue New Hyde Park

    Energy By Choice installed my solar several years ago and have yet to pay more than the mandatory few cents a day service fee by the electric company. While I have had no problems with my system, I have had questions and Sail Van Nostrand is always attentive to me and responds to my inquiries quickly and professionally. I whole heartedly recommend Energy By Choice to anyone looking for a solar contractor.

  • Joe West Babylon

    I couldn’t be more pleased with my experience with Energy By Choice. Sail and his entire staff are professional and compassionate about what they do. They want their customer to be well informed and happy from start to finish…Give them a call…You will NOT be disappointed!

  • Rich Port Jefferson Station.

    Your patience with me and your level of detail in explaining the job to me before, during and after the job was above and beyond the words thorough and professional.

  • Anthony Mattituck

    We were certainly impressed with your attention to detail from your initial presentation and throughout the system installation. Your service and product knowledge has proven to be second to none.

  • Mike Long Beach

    [Sail] designed and installed the right system for our home. His crew was eager to be part of the amazing “revolution

  • Jerry Baiting Hollow

    From the start your approach was professional, and every step of the way you clearly and accurately represented the parameters of the project. The only surprises that we had were positive ones: the neatness of the work was exceptional and the effect of the solar cells on our electric bill exceeded our expectations.

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