How to Get Started on Going Solar
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Adolfo Larios started thinking about installing solar on his Placentia home to help lower his electric bill.
First, he talked to a few friends who already had solar, then looked at several websites for information. After getting bids from several vendors, he decided to proceed.
Larios said it only took Southern California Edison a few days after the contractor installed the system to approve the application, allowing him to connect to the power grid.
“I thought it was pretty easy,” he said. “The one thing I would advise people is to shop around and look at several contractors.”
Anthony Hernandez, an SCE senior manager who oversees the Customer Distributed Generation Programs team, said the utility has made great progress in making it easier for customers to connect their solar system to the grid.
While SCE does not install solar systems, Hernandez noted the company has a website and holds public information meetings to answer questions about the solar installation process.
When the program first started, SCE only had paper applications that had to be processed by hand. It could take many weeks to get a solar connection request reviewed and approved.
“Since last August, we have an online application system and it just takes a few days to get approval as long as we have all the needed documentation and it’s correct,” Hernandez said.
The increasing affordability of solar systems, tax incentives and the ease of applying have led to a rush of new installation applications. As of July, more than 186,000 SCE residential customers had gone solar, up from 126,000 a year ago.
SCE’s solar applications continue at a record pace this year with the total expected to approach 60,000 homes.
Here are some tips to help you through the solar process:
Energy efficiency first. Before installing a solar system, make sure you do energy-efficiency upgrades, like replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED lights and adding insulation. That will cut your overall electric usage and, therefore, reduce the amount of solar you will need to install. Also, you don’t need to get your electric usage with solar to zero. A smaller system that gets your usage to the lowest electric rate tier might be a more affordable choice.
Finding a contractor. SCE recommends getting bids from at least three contractors before signing with one. Ask family and friends for recommendations. California has a listing of licensed contractors. Make sure they have an active A, B or C-10 license.
Usage information. The contractor will need to know your usage. You can provide a copy of your SCE bill, but make sure you black out any personal information. One option is to authorize SCE to provide your information directly and securely to the contractor. You can also use the “Green Button” tool on your SCE.com/myaccount to safely download your usage information. Never share your SCE account ID or login with a contractor.
Know what you are getting. Your contractor should provide a comprehensive installation and financial plan. Make sure you understand the contract, warranties and maintenance agreements. Ask about any additional costs for permits and upgrades. California law limits a contractor’s down payment to no more than $1,000 or 10 percent of the purchase price.
Your bill with solar. Billing for solar customers is different. If you sign up for the Net Energy Metering rate option, you will get credits for the excess power you send to the grid. You still will be subject to monthly non-energy charges like taxes and facilities fees. You can pay the bill monthly or wait until you get an annual "true-up bill" that balances your total energy charges and credits for the year. If over that 12-month period you used more power from the grid than you generated, you will have to pay the difference. However, if you return more energy to the grid than you used, the company will credit your bill or pay you directly.