Solar Co-ops and Experience

About a year ago we had solar panels installed on our home.  I’m sharing our experience and what we learned for others who may be considering solar.

Solar Co-op

We were able to join the Baltimore Solar Cooperative through Retrofit Baltimore.  That co-op has since closed, but there’s a place to sign up to hear about new co-ops and look for current co-ops at MD Sun

A co-op is a great way to get solar if you can find one. They work as a group to get a good deal on solar installation for their members. They also act as a consumer advocate and are a great source for asking q’s about the process.

Solar Benefits

As far as credits and benefits from solar –
We see a noticeable reduction in our energy bill after having solar installed. More in summer than winter, of course.  The savings estimate that we were given has been very accurate.

We also get SRECs which are energy trading credits that we receive money for about quarterly. For this, we are required to post a meter reading at the end of each month online. We are registered with a company who sells our SRECs for us periodically and sends us a check. There is an option to sell your SRECs yourself if you prefer.

We got a rebate (from the state) as a credit on our solar install.  I’ve heard that this or another benefit may be ending in the future.

Solar Energy World and Installation

Our solar was installed by Solar Energy World. We didn’t have any issues with the company other than issues with the contract.  However since we were working through the co-op, I’m not sure whether our experience with Solar Energy World is typical.

The proposal that we were given offered 3 levels of solar panels. We chose to go with the lowest priced panels as there was still a significant energy production (about 38% of our current usage) and the lower price meant that we’d make back the investment faster.

The online monitoring system required them to plug into a port on our internet router inside our house which they didn’t tell us ahead of time (one complaint that I passed on to them.) In the end, they brought in a mini router because it was too far across our basement from our internet router to our solar energy meter for the standard wireless signal.

It took several months between installation until activation which we were not aware of before. I think solar was installed the day before Halloween. It was activated finally sometime in December I think. The delay is a result of needing the power company to come out and install a Smart Meter, then give the ok to start it up.  Current meters only measure power flowing through as opposed to differentiating between power generated vs. used. So without a smart meter, turning on the solar (there’s actually a switch at the side of the house) we’d have been charged for power generated!

I recommend that you read the install contract very carefully. One issue was that the contract said any damage to our gutters, landscaping, etc. during installation would be our responsibility to replace or repair. When we told them that we had issues with this and 2 other parts of the contract, they promptly told us to cross out those parts. Not sure if this would have been the same if we hadn’t been with the co-op.

Other Solar Offers

There are companies out there offering free solar installation in which you basically rent them your roof. We didn’t like this option as you have to buy back the solar equipment from them if you want to move or get out of the arrangement. If there is a problem with your roof, you have to pay for repairs using a contractor they choose. They offer 40% off your bill, but that’s not a hard number, so I’m concerned that they could fudge the numbers (raise your energy cost) so that you’re not really saving as much as you might have expected. Originally the solar company said was a deal in conjunction with the local power company, but I’ve heard the power company is not admitting to working with these companies now. I believe it was Vivint Solar and I’ve heard about issues with installation delays with them.

HOA Review

Neighborhoods with a Homeowners Association usually want to approve any exterior modifications to your home, so check with your HOA to find out their process for this.  Even our neighborhood with “voluntary” HOA dues requests homeowners to get approval before making modifications of this type.

We have been very happy with our solar installation, savings and being able to help the environment by generating clean energy to offset some of our energy use!

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