A $48,000 Mistake in Going Solar

by on March 15, 2021 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Judi Curry

What I am about ready to write about is only my experience with trying to help the environment.  Others may not have had the same experience and I want to say, again, that this is only my opinion and experience.

In August of 2018, I decided that I wanted to put solar on my roof. I thought it would help the environment; it would lessen my enormous electric bills; and with the offers of “no pay” it was too good to turn down.

I checked with my accountant, and she told me that I would be able to take a write-off on my taxes every year.  So, I had it installed. (I asked about having the battery function put on also, but the installer told me it was manufactured by TESLA and over $10,000 more than the $30,000 I was paying for the solar. I elected not to have it put on.)

As I began getting my monthly electric bill, I was surprised to find that with the 24 panels I had installed there was not much of a change in my monthly bill, although it was slightly less than it was before the solar installation.  I couldn’t help but remember people telling me that I live at the beach and there are many cloudy days and I would not get the same benefits as people living inland  with their solar installation. I should also say that even though I was getting a monthly electric bill, I was not to pay it; that would come in August of 2019, after I had had the solar for a full year.  And lucky me – I would get to pay the whole year at one time!

Then I received my tax bill for 2019!  I was floored to find out that there was an additional charge of $2800 for the solar.  When I used the PACE program to purchase the solar, I was told it would be handled through my taxes, but being blond, I did not realize that it would appear on my tax bill every year.  Then I figured out that if the solar cost me $30,000 and I was paying yearly, it would end up costing me much more than the $30,000 I paid initially because of interest. I decided to refinance the house and pay off the solar expense.  Which I did.

Now let’s move on to March of 2019.  I have an old house. It was built in 1950.  The original heating unit was an oil burner, which is still in the “basement” of the house.  But before we purchased the house the previous owners had replaced it with a floor furnace, and for years it heated most of the house without any problem.

Until March of 2019. I noticed as I walked past the furnace, I was smelling gas.  I was afraid that it might cause a fire, and it was time to put in something different. I talked to several of my friends that had “splits” – air conditioning and heating, and they all said they were very happy with it.

Forced air. All photos by Judi Curry or her friends.

I knew I didn’t need air conditioning – after all, I live at the beach – but there were a few hot days that it would have been nice – so I decided to put in the splits in my office, my bedroom, and the living room.  The company that I purchased it from assured me that the three places I had selected would either heat or cool the house sufficiently and I didn’t need more than the 3 units.  The cost of the units were $18,000 and the installation was completed by June of 2019.

We did not have a real hot summer and I only used the air conditioning unit twice all summer.  But come the autumn and winter, I found that I was using the heat – the electric heat – more often.  And then I received my first electric bill – $410 – the highest electric bill I had ever received while living in this house.  Of course the times I was using the heat was the 4:00- 9:00pm times – when electricity is the most expensive.

I was more careful the next month, but the bill was still over $300. So I called the company to come out and check to make sure it was functioning correctly.  According to them it was, and they suggested that my solar was malfunctioning.  So I called the solar company. They came out, did a few adjustments and assured me that it was because I was now using electric heat, that I was using all of the build up that I was generating from the solar and unless I used less heat my bills would not show any substantial lessening than before I put in the solar.

I did what I should have done in the first place – received an estimate on forced air heating.  I had several estimates and decided that the best thing I could do was use the air conditioning in the summer when – if – I needed it and put in the forced air heating. (The reason I didn’t do that in the first place was because I didn’t want my walls broken into for the vents.  I didn’t realize that in order to put in the splits that would happen anyway.)

And let me throw out one other thing – the first time I used the air in my office it seems that they had connected the “out-take” wrong and the water, instead of being diverted outside, came into the room.  I didn’t realize it until I walked into my office barefooted and found myself walking on water!  My carpet and hardwood floors needed to be replaced! Of course they paid for that!

Split

I decided on a company that came highly recommended for the forced air,  and they began the installation of the new heating unit.  If any of you followed a previous post that I wrote, you know that I caught COVID from someone in the crew – and even today, 2 ½ months later, am still suffering from some of the COVID symptoms.  But, I now have received my first electric bill since I had the new heating unit put in and I am happy to say it was substantially lower than any other bill I have received since this whole fiasco began.  Of course my gas bill is higher – but still not as high as the electric bills have been.

So what is the purpose of writing this?

Just to warn those of you that are thinking of getting solar in the beach area to think very carefully about why you are getting it.  Keep in mind the number of cloudy days vs the number of sunny days; keep in mind that just because you have installed solar that your electric bills may not change a whole lot. If you are going to change your heating units, check out all of the options that you have before you make the final decision. Don’t do what I did – and rely on good friends for their advice.

In the long run I hope that this will  even itself out.  The interest on my mortgage payment has been reduced significantly and I am paying only a few dollars more than before I refinanced; I can turn my heater on from 4-7:00pm and not worry about choosing my medicine over my electric bill.

But what I did was very costly – and very, very blond. If I had to do it again I would not put in solar; and I would definitely not put in the split unit.  Maybe I have learned for my next big purchase – my leaking roof!

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Judi Curry Judi Curry March 15, 2021 at 12:03 pm

Hope the adage “when it rains in pours” doesn’t happen until the roof is fixed!

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Avatar tennyson March 15, 2021 at 6:35 pm

Thanks for posting, I too live in an old house, one even older than yours. During the winter months the SDGE bill can be over $400, solar has been an option I’ve considered but after reading this think I’ll just focus on the much needed new roof.

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Avatar Lee March 15, 2021 at 7:26 pm

Judy, I’m sorry you’ve been through all this. But I have to say something is wrong with this picture. I paid half of what you did, still bough a couple of extra panels in case I got an electric car, and haven’t paid an electric bill in five years.. I too got mine mostly for environmental reasons and really want to help the plants. That said, imagine your situation if the anti-natural gas advocates succeed. Electric heating for homes and water is just not efficient enough with present technology.

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Judi Curry Judi Curry March 15, 2021 at 7:50 pm

Lee and Tennyson – I am not sure where I went wrong. I certainly did a lot of research before I went the solar route. In spite of people telling me that living at the beach I would not get the benefits of people living inland, I thought it was the right thing to do. People like you, Lee, tell me the same thing – low bills; helping the environment etc. I sure have not seen it that way. I wish I could find a company that would come out and “test” my solar. I just feel that it is not working correctly, but the company I purchased it from tells me everything pans out. I wish I could “sell it back!” An expensive lesson.

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Avatar Quentin N.Saracino March 15, 2021 at 8:03 pm

Hi Judi,

Call Consumers Report for their advice. Call solar companies that advertise on San Diego AM radios – tell them your situation, learn what they’ll do for you.
Call a consumer specilaty law office – learn what they will do for you.
Don’t give up on this. Somebody will help you, be persistant.

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Judi Curry Judi March 15, 2021 at 8:35 pm

Thanks Quentin for the suggestion. I called three solar companies and asked if they would come check my panels but got negative replies from all of them. Maybe I gave up to soon. Will look at your other suggestions. Thank you

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Avatar Fletcher Miller March 15, 2021 at 9:31 pm

Dear Judy, I replied via Nextdoor too, but I agree with Lee. We paid a lot less and have no electric bill. Something just seems wrong. I will PM you to get more details on your system.

Tennyson, please don’t write off solar that quick. Many people here in PL have it and it works. Like any home improvement you need to be careful what you are getting; I am happy to consult. I do agree, however, a roof, especially with good insulation is more important.

Best to you both.

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Avatar Gsquaredmarg March 16, 2021 at 8:16 am

Judy – You’ve certainly been through a lot. You seem to recognize poor decisions/assumptions as an issue with your saga. I would suggest that your headline would better highlight this as opposed to criticizing solar. The decision to go with solar would seem to be one of the only good decisions I see in your post!

Add me to the list who is happy with my solar install. And happy with $0 electric bills. And at a significantly lower install cost (per panel) than what you apparently experienced.

You’re not likely to find a solar company to come out just to evaluate your system. They are in the business of selling solar systems. You may have some luck if you offer to pay an hourly rate for an evaluation of your system. Is that cost worth the “peace of mind” that your solar system is functioning properly?

As a cost free alternative, our government provides a tool to help guide what kind of electrical production you can expect from your installation. It won’t be perfect on a one year basis, but it will provide an estimate for how your system is performing versus average solar radiation at your location. Check out https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/. Estimate based on your location and system, and compare to what your system is actually producing. Over the past year, I’ve produced about 14% more than the estimate from PVWatts.

And a few thoughts for anyone else out there considering solar:
* Look at energy savings opportunities prior to designing your solar system…it is generally less expensive to save energy than produce it by solar

* Consider the condition of your roof prior to a solar install…you don’t want to have to remove and reinstall in just a few years

* Solar is not as complicated as it may first seem. It is an easy business to get into, which is why there are so many installers these days. And there are a lot of good ones, and of course some bad ones. Don’t let them confuse your decision by making it sound like “rocket science” – focus on costs, reputation, and references

* Obviously get multiple quotes for comparison. The key is to avoid the multitude of financing/leasing options that cloud the apples-to-apples comparison of alternatives

Good luck

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Avatar Marsha Cook March 16, 2021 at 10:34 am

Unfortunate that you used the PACE program for installation. As you found out, it affects your property taxes. So does YGreen. Best to look at leasing the system or taking out a loan for the system. Our savings have been about $400 per month, the lease payments are $116 per month. Well worth it.

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Avatar Roger Moyers March 16, 2021 at 10:50 am

I was under the impression that saving the planet through the use of renewable energy was the goal. Now it seems there must be a financial savings as well? Hmmm, maybe we should use this type of analysis on other similar projects, but then those projects aren’t “our” money.

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Avatar Don March 18, 2021 at 10:54 am

WOW. in 2019 we had a 5 Ton A/C and one mini split for a back room added, followed shortly by Solar. The Solar install was around $3000. We used the A/C and Mini Split when we felt warm (or cold in the back room). Our net for year 2020 was -$24. The panels are Panasonic (FYI). Only 10 of them. Either we got lucky or you got not so lucky – but the Solar calculation was right on. One Solar company told me I needed 26 panels!

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Avatar triggerfinger March 22, 2021 at 2:57 pm

Heat pump heat is about 3-4 times more efficient than electric resistance heat. It should cost about on par with gas heat… maybe less if you only heat part of the house.

Some split heat pumps have both, in which case I recommend disabling the electric resistance portion.

Now if they replaced your gas heat with a split air conditioner with only electric resistance heating, they’ve violated the building code, and common sense.

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