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Shining A Light On Solar

Questions to ask before taking the plunge

July 2023

By Jennah Denney, Contributing Columnist

With most residential solar systems being installed and electrically interconnected with your electric provider, your local electric cooperative should top your list of project contacts when considering such a purchase. Virginia’s and Maryland’s electric cooperatives are well-versed in both the pros and cons of solar installations. They can help you make an informed decision and navigate the interconnection process (to connect your system to the electric grid). Your electric cooperative likely has a specific process by which planned solar arrays are approved prior to installation and inspected afterward.

For many homeowners, solar installations are considered an investment. As with any investment, you need a clear understanding of your final investment costs, the annual energy production to be expected along with its corresponding value, and the ability to determine how long it will take before you achieve a return on your investment.

Many solar installers provide quotes using national averages for energy prices to calculate your annual savings. These calculations can be wildly inaccurate as energy price ranges vary considerably across the country. The assumption for increases in energy prices over the lifespan of your solar array can’t be ignored, but is often calculated at a rate that is higher than that experienced over the last 15-30 years.

If you’re considering solar for your home, use the questions and considerations below to help guide your decision before entering into a contract with a solar vendor.

Jennah Denney writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Thinking about solar?

Installing a rooftop solar system is a major decision. If you’re considering solar, use the following questions as a guide before entering into a contract to install the system.

Initial Questions

• Do you plan to stay in the home long-term?

• How much shade does your roof receive? (The orientation of your roof can impact how much electricity the system provides.)

• How old is your roof? (If it’s old or in poor condition, consider replacing it before installing solar.)

• What are your goals? (If you’re looking to save on energy bills, consider an energy audit first.)

• Will you lease or purchase the solar system?

(Compare quotes from multiple contractors/installers.)

Utility Questions

• How will you need to work with your electric co-op to connect the solar system to the electric grid? (For example, an interconnection agreement must be signed.)

• How long will the process take?

• Does your co-op offer special rates for members with solar systems?

Contractor Questions

• Can the contractor provide appropriate documentation of licensing, permitting, bonding and insurance requirements?

• Can the contractor show documentation of safety practices and how those will be followed?

• Can the contractor provide current credentials?

Contract Questions

• Do the ownership terms make sense/seem fair?

• Do the system performance calculations seem realistic?

• Do the terms change if you sell the property?

• Do the project start and end dates seem reasonable?

• How long is the system warranty?

• Who is responsible for system maintenance?

• Who will receive the renewable energy credits (RECs)?