What happened to your solar project?

Question of the week: What happened to your solar project?

Answer:  Some WR&MU readers may recall that last September are question of the week was, “Should we get solar?” In the response I stated that Leslie and I were meeting that afternoon with a representative from a company Southern California Edison contracted with to work with customers interested in installing solar panels. Essentially a solar-broker who would shop our solar plan to contractors for the best bid for installation.

We did meet with the representative and she was excellent in explaining the process. They did an analysis of our electricity usage, sent out someone with a drone to look at our roof, drew up a plan with the size of our roof and in which direction various parts sloped (we have an odd roof with about 45% being flat from an addition in the ‘70’s, the original roof line having three ridges with sloped facing East-West or North-South).

From this they drew up a schematic plan for the number of panels we would need to meet our goal* and how they would be placed on the roof. *Those with great memories, or who clicked the link above, will recall our home has no air conditioning. One reason we added solar panels was to offset the energy cost of adding air conditioning to our home. As a result, we insisted on more panels than our electrical usage at the time merited.

Once the plan was presented and approved by us, the solar broker sent the it to several contractors and came back to us with three bids. The timing from initial information meeting to receiving the bids to review was about ten days.

After the initial bids we made some changes so that we would not have to install a new electrical panel, and new bids were presented. About fifteen days after our initial contact, we signed a contract and the process of installation began.

As part of the starting process, we were provided with some options for financing the project with an eight-year loan with a local credit union with terms that matched the average of our prior monthly electric bills. The contractor was on hold until they received word that our loan was approved so they could get paid directly from the credit union.*

Later, we opted instead to obtain a Home Equity Line of Credit for more flexibility and ability to reuse for future home remodeling/maintenance projects.

Once the loan was approved, we were presented with our first invoice and the contractor sent an engineer to inspect our property and electrical panel and capacity.

The contractor returned with a new bid that included replacing the electrical panel. I asked why we would need a new panel and the explanation was if we want to add more service later, such as adding air conditioning, we would need a larger panel. The change in cost added about 5% to the project; a new contract was sent out the we signed.

At this point they requested an inspection from SCE to sign off on the plan. Low and behold, SCE wanted our panel to remain where it was it would require moving our wire from the main and it would take four months for them to do so, if we moved the panel to another location on the same wall it would have no delays. By now we are six weeks from our starting the process. The contractor has spoken to SCE and were “working with our engineer to come up with plan and cost.”

Three weeks later the contractor returned with a new bid, and added trimming trees to their costs. The new bid added more to the cost, now about 7% higher than originally provided, adding about one-year to the cost to repay the project based on using average monthly bill for payments.

At the beginning of these three weeks, I was playing golf, I mean networking. I was telling the group about my woes with the changes and delays and one of them said, “call my friend, I’ve known him since high school and he has a solar company that does commercial and residential installations.”

I am not one to change service providers very easily, I try to stay with who I am comfortable with and have built some trust. In this instance my trust was with our representative, and not with the contractor. When the bid was issued, I called my friend’s friend and explained the situation. He said in our call, he would take a look but he has done plenty of installations and knows what SCE was suggesting, but said that it does not have to be done.

I was getting pressured to sign the new bid and contract and told the solar broker I was getting a second bid from another contractor. At this time we were coming up on Thanksgiving and I said if they wanted to cancel the contract that was fine but I would not be making any decisions for at least a week.

The bid came in from the new contractor, it provided slightly more energy, no moving of panels, and the cost was about 10-12% lower. He was a local business, in Long Beach, and had very good communication. I informed the SCE solar broker I would not be moving forward with them and the contractor they put us in touch with for the project.

The day after I informed the broker I was not signing the contract the contractor called and was pretty aggressive and nasty. Long story short he was trying to get me to sign saying I would have to pay cancellation charges, which would have applied had I signed and cancelled; however they changed the contract so the old contract was void—he tried to argue the point. For those who are wondering, this contractor was Ameco Solar. I relayed the conversation to my broker representative, who had been very nice and helpful, who relayed it upstairs and after a few conversations it was confirmed we were under no obligation for anything.

Our project with the new contractor, Jarrod the owner of Solar Source, began at the end of November when after an inspection and bid we signed a contract to begin the project. At the time Jarrod told me that it will take a while for permits…

Did I mention we live in Long Beach? Since many years before the pandemic the building department for the City of Long Beach has been a black hole for permits and inspections. Our permit application was submitted in early December.

In mid-March we received our permit and installation was completed in three days. At which time SCE was notified and we were put in line for the installation of a “GMA” for the panel—which bypassed getting a new panel or moving it. In mid-June SCE sent out an inspector, the same one who came for the prior contactor, and said we needed to move the panel….

Our contactor immediately contacted the inspector, told him the installation with the GMA did not require movement, he agreed and out paperwork went back into line for installation.

Finally, our installation with SCE was scheduled for late June and we needed to wait for another inspection from the City of Long Beach. The inspection was a week later, which put us in line for SCE to finalize the project and put us online.

I am not saying SCE was dragging it out to ensure more sales of electricity to the Smith household, but there were not fewer than five changes to the application they requested from the contractor, not at once but one at a time, before the project was fully approved.

On July 13th, ten months almost to the day that we started our process, our project was live, producing energy for our home and selling excess production back to SCE. We will not see the full impact until our August billing, which will have one full month of solar production impacting our usage of electricity from SCE.

Project approved, completed and active on budget with excellent communication through the stages, and the waiting.

The actual process of getting plans, installing the panels and hooking them up was about ten days. From the start of our initial call to Jarrod, to completion about six and a half months. Our project was delayed several months by the City of Long Beach and SCE not providing permits and inspections, making a ten-day project about twenty times longer than that.

Now, time to start calling air and heating contractors for bids. Since we will have to go through the City of Long Beach building department for permits, I will assume we should have air conditioning by the end of next summer…

Have a question? Ask me!

Rates for Friday July 23, 2021: Very little economic news this week, next week are several announcements that may move markets. Rates are flat for the third Friday in a row.

FIXED RATE MORTGAGES AT COST OF 1.25 POINTS LOCKED FOR 45 DAYS FOR PURCHASE TRANSACTIONS:

30 year conforming                                         2.625%  Flat

30 year high-balance conforming                   2.75%  Flat

Please note that these are base rates and adjustments may be added for condominiums, refinances, credit scores, loan to value, no impound account and period rate is locked. Rates are based on 20% down with 740 FICO score for purchase mortgages.

Are you a fan of the Olympics? I have been since the first Olympics I can recall, 1972 in Munich. Those games were very emotional, especially for a ten-year-old kid. I remember how exciting it was to see Mark Spitz win gold after gold after gold…seven in all! And little Olga Korbut flying around the gymnastics events. And of course, the tragedy of the Black September terrorist group taking nine Israeli athletes and coaches hostage in the Olympic Village and the subsequent tragedy at the airport when commandos tried to free them.

Every four years, five this time, we learn about amazing athletes from around the world. Home-grown competitors who are famous in their one events and unknown to the population at large become superstars, Katie Ledecky comes to mind as she stacked up four gold medals in Rio in 2016.

One of my favorite stories from the Rio Olympics is Michael Phelps, winner of twenty-three gold medals (plus three silver and two bronze) showing Ledecky how to drape her medals for a photo shoot.

Who will be the big story in the Tokyo games? What athletes will have incredible performances that will grab the headlines?

Have a great week,

Dennis

Past Weekly Rate & Market Updates can be found on my blog page at my website www.DennisCSmith.com/my-blog