ssential Considerations Before Investing in Solar Panels

On a bright day in Plano toward the end of February, Dutch Uselton’s rooftop panels are diligently generating power. Uselton keeps tabs on their energy output and the resulting savings. Installed just over a year ago, he remains content with the investment, considering it a wise choice.

In recent months, the CBS News Texas I-Team has uncovered solar panel tales marked by substantial debt, equipment malfunctions, and homeowners facing potential foreclosure. Yet, amidst these stories, the consensus remains that the issue lies not with solar panels themselves, but rather with the business practices of certain companies peddling them. Seeking to highlight a solar success narrative, the I-Team connected with Uselton.

Solar Economics

Uselton made an initial payment of $25,000 for his solar system, which secured him a $7,000 tax credit this year. He anticipates the panels will eventually offset their cost, albeit over a considerable duration. “I won’t see a return on my investment for a decade,” Uselton acknowledges. “That’s an important point for people to understand.”

Here’s how his solar setup operates: During sunlit hours, the panels satisfy the demand for air conditioning, while excess energy produced is sold back to the utility company, earning credits. At night or on cloudy days, power is drawn from the grid.

The Outcome

Last year, Uselton’s total electricity bill amounted to $1,128, averaging less than $100 monthly. By contrast, the year preceding panel installation saw him paying $1,927, around $160 per month. “It exceeded predictions,” Uselton remarks, “which is encouraging. Every year presents variations.”

Uselton attributes his success to participation in a cooperative. This entails a collective of interested residents pooling resources to procure solar installations. Facilitated by a non-profit called Solar United Neighbors, the cooperative educates participants, coordinates installer bids, and leverages group purchasing power to reduce costs.

Larry Howe, a Solar United Neighbors volunteer, extols the virtues of cooperatives as an avenue for the solar-curious to gather insights in a supportive environment. “Questions you may overlook could be raised by someone else,” Howe emphasizes.

Uselton’s cooperative secured a rate of $2.50 per watt, notably lower than the Texas residential average of $4 per watt.

Expanding Opportunities

Solar United Neighbors is currently assembling residents and small businesses for another cooperative initiative in Plano, with registration open until April 30.

Taylor Alexander, founder of Texas Solar Panimals, emphasizes the importance of selecting a reputable installer to ensure optimal panel performance. Sharing a cautionary tale, he recounts assisting a homeowner dissatisfied with previous solar panel outcomes due to poor placement.

Nicole Flurry, one such homeowner, shares her experience of accruing a $53,000 loan for panels that failed to deliver savings. Unaware of a lien condition in her contract, Flurry encountered obstacles when refinancing her home.

Reflecting on lessons learned, Flurry advocates for legal and financial scrutiny of contracts and urges potential buyers to solicit multiple quotes and seek advice from peers with solar experience.

Uselton’s ultimate advice? Only pursue solar if it aligns with your financial means. “If you have to borrow,” he cautions, “reconsider. Loan interest can prolong payback periods significantly.

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