Ever since my husband and I decided to install solar panels on our roof, we have frequently been asked by the solar-curious if it’s really worth it to install solar in rainy Seattle. The short answer: it’s worth it! Which is why I hang out by the mailbox whenever it’s electricity bill time – getting paid for the surplus electricity that our system has generated is truly electrifying!
For starters, we haven’t paid an electricity bill since we installed our solar panels 16 months ago. However, we aren’t completely off the grid. In the winter, we do use more electricity than we produce. Since we run a surplus at other times of the year, and because our home is outfitted with all manner of CFL/LED/halogen light, we contribute more to the grid than we take from it. Seattle City Light pays us for the electricity that we put back into the grid and we slowly run down this balance over the course of winter.
We chose to install solar panels last year because the technology has improved enough that you can produce a reasonable quantity of electricity even on cloudy days, and because there are a lot of incentives for investing in clean energy right now. For example, if you purchase made-in-Washington solar panels (aka “modules”) and/or inverters, you qualify for production incentives offered by local utilities. Through June, 2013, the state is offering a sales tax waiver. There’s also a 30% federal tax credit that lasts until 2016.
All of that may sound like mumbo-jumbo. Luckily, the solar installers will help you figure out not only which types of solar panel would be best for your home (given sun exposure, tree cover, and so on), but which incentives you might qualify for and how long it would take for you to break even on your investment.
We worked with Puget Sound Solar, because we knew Pamela back from her days as executive director at Seattle Tilth and because she and her husband Jeremy had installed panels for our neighbors. The crew performed a site visit and presented us with a series of 6 options for our roof – with variables that included different types of modules, different types of inverters and differing layouts for our roof. They also included the cost, the payback time and the incentives we would earn for each setup. We found it extremely helpful to be able to compare the options side by side.
Because we plan to stay in our home for a long time, we chose Option 6, which had a higher initial investment but a much better payback over 10 years. Puget Sound Solar explained the available financing options – both Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union and Umpqua Bank offer loans for green projects including solar panels (and electric cars, but that’s a little while down the road for us). Before we knew it, we were the proud owners of made-in Washington solar technology.
I recently contacted Pamela to double-check that all of the incentives are still in place. She offered the following advice:
Costs will go up 9% next year when the sales tax waiver expires [in June]. The timeline is growing short if homeowners are interested in saving the 9%. For example, we are almost booked to the end of year with installs. Come January there is likely to be a surge in orders for the made-in-Washington modules. The two in-state factories are small, producing less than 100 modules a day. With a dozen companies now installing solar it is likely that the demand could quickly out do the product availability.
We suggest that the best position for folks to take would be to ask us for a free evaluation now. It is painless, we do it from space and send a comprehensive report with multiple choices of in and out of state systems. Then they can consider the numbers, talk with our staff and loan agencies.
If you’re interested in putting solar panels on your roof, you can also take a walk down the 3800 block of Bagley. Three of us have panels on our roofs. The Wallingford Solar Initiative (which has many admirable goals, including 1,000 solar rooftops in Wallingford) also has a map of solar homes in our neighborhood. I happen to know it’s not inclusive, since our home’s not on it! But group leader Chuck assures me that if we email him photos, our home can appear on the map. I think I will have to take a break from waiting for the mailman to do just that.