United members put photovoltaic solar panels on their homes in droves
last year. United’s trusted energy solutions specialists sat down to answer
the most common questions they receive about installing solar.
During the last year, residential solar installations have increased within United’s service territory.
In 2022, United saw a 283 percent increase in members installing solar panels at their homes over 2021. As more members explore the pros and cons of installing solar, United’s Energy Solutions team has fielded countless questions from curious members. Below is a list of the most common solar-related questions.
Does United have any advice for members considering solar?
Yes, our biggest recommendation is to first tackle as many energy-efficiency projects in the home as possible. By decreasing a home’s electric usage, a smaller and therefore less expensive solar system can be considered. Many energy efficiency projects offer quicker return-on-investment opportunities when compared to a solar system. United is here to help members identify and achieve their specific energy goals. Sign up for a free home energy audit today at www.ucs.net/energy-audits.
How many solar installation quotes should members receive?
United recommends receiving a minimum of three quotes from different solar installers. There is currently a wide array of pricing in the solar market. Generally, those who sign their first and only quote pay significantly more than those who compare and negotiate between multiple offers.
What research should be performed before signing a solar contract?
- First, review and understand United’s net metering, buyback policy, and interconnection process (please see page 20C).
- Second, members should speak with a tax professional or CPA about the potential for a Federal Income Tax Credit (FITC). Purchasing solar becomes much more attractive if a member qualifies for the entire 30 percent credit.
- United also recommends speaking with insurance professionals to determine if policy adjustments are needed to cover solar equipment.
- Lastly, speaking with a realtor can provide insight into potential changes to market value and desirability.
Does United partner with any solar installers?
United does not currently have a partnership with any solar installers. At this time, United cannot guarantee the quality or back the workmanship of any contractor in its service territory.
How long is the return-on-investment (ROI) for a solar system?
There are many factors that can affect the ROI of a solar system, including the total cost and size of the system, as well as United’s rates. Those who install solar could be eligible for a 30 percent FITC. It is important to speak with a tax professional or CPA to determine eligibility for the FITC.
The ROI can extend several years if the full tax credit is not received. Additionally, paying cash for a solar system can significantly reduce overall cost due to the lack of interest charges. Overall, members who pay cash for solar can expect an ROI of about 15-20 years. If financed, the ROI is generally about 20-25 years. If electric rates decrease in the future, the ROI will be extended.
How are solar accounts billed?
Accounts with 50 kW DC and below are net-metered, which means members are billed monthly on the difference between the energy delivered to their homes or businesses and the energy received by United during the billing cycle.
- Solar Underproduction (Net Consumer)—If United delivers more kWh than what is received from a solar system, the received kWh are credited back at retail cost and the net energy is billed to the member. Beginning in 2023, all members will be billed a securitization charge due to Winter Storm Uri based on the total energy delivered. For example, if United delivers a home 1000 kWh and receives 800 kWh from the solar in a month, the member will receive a bill for the 200 kWh net difference, plus securitization charges on the 1000 kWh delivered.
- Solar Overproduction (Net Producer)—If United receives more kWh than it delivers to a home in a month, the excess kWh will be purchased back at that month’s wholesale power supply costs and deposited into a banked balance on the account. In this scenario, the member will be responsible for a minimum bill of $25 plus securitization charges on the total kWh delivered. Any banked balance amount will be automatically applied to future energy charges.
- To view sample DG bills for the two scenarios above, please visit our website at www.ucs.net/renewable-energy.
Will members still have a bill with solar?
Yes, the member will always be responsible for a $25 minimum bill per residential meter. The member will also be responsible for applicable securitization charges on all delivered kWh to the member, even during the months when there is overproduction.
What will happen to any remaining banked balances at end of year?
If the member has any unused banked balances left over at the end of a calendar year, United will issue a credit for any remaining banked balances to the member every January.
What size system should a member install?
The total size of a solar system will vary depending on the usage history, location of panels, and ultimate goals of the member. United will net meter any solar system 50 kW DC and below. An average home would not need to install a system anywhere near this maximum net-metered size. United does not recommend oversizing a system in excess of the yearly energy needs. This recommendation is in place to maximize United’s net metering policy and retail credits (under-production), instead of receiving wholesale credit for over-production kWh along with the minimum bill and applicable securitization charges.
Can one system offset multiple meters?
United does not currently offer “virtual-metering.”
Each metering point is billed independent of one another. Therefore, any over-generation on one meter will not be used to offset the usage of another meter.
If solar is purchased for multiple meters, there will need to be individual, properly sized systems interconnected to each metering point.
How does the process for installing solar usually go?
- The first step of installing solar is choosing a trusted solar company.
- After signing, the solar company will then complete and send United a solar application on the member’s behalf.
- United takes approximately three to four weeks to review applications from the date of submission. During this review process, United will confirm that the system conforms to United’s requirements and will inform the installer of any required changes.
- Once the installer receives approval from United, the installer is free to install the system. If the installation is within city limits, the solar company will need to obtain an installation permit from the municipality.
- After the installation is complete and has passed city inspection, if applicable, the solar company will notify United that the system is ready for United’s field verification.
- United’s field verification will generally be completed within a week from notification that the system is ready.
- The system can stay on once the system passes United’s field verification and Permission to Operate (PTO) is granted.
Are there any fees associated with a solar installation?
United does not currently charge any application fees for solar. The only fees that may be incurred include infrastructure upgrades. These costs, if applicable, will be billed to the solar contractor for payment. Each installation is individually evaluated during the application review process, to determine if United’s infrastructure will accommodate the specific solar system.
Why does solar monitoring not match the received reading on my bill?
United only receives excess solar energy that the home does not consume behind the meter, not total production from the system. As solar is being produced throughout the day, the home actively pulls from the solar production first. At any moment, if there is more energy being produced than demand in the home, United will receive the excess solar energy through the meter.
Will my solar continue to operate during an outage?
Unless a solar system has backup battery storage, the home will lose power during an outage. Grid-tie solar systems operate in parallel with the grid and are unable to back feed onto the grid during an outage for the safety of linemen.
Is it better to purchase or lease a solar system?
It is often more advantageous to finance than to lease a solar system. Once a loan is paid off, financed systems will continue to produce power until the system’s end of life, whereas leased systems will be removed after a predetermined number of years. Additionally, members that lease systems are unable to claim the FITC.
How long do solar systems last?
Most solar panels are warrantied for 20-25 years. Panel manufacturers certify their products against hail, high winds, and extreme temperatures to simulate real-world exposure. In general, solar systems that utilize credible products have about a 30-year life expectancy.
How is United Community Solar different?
United Community Solar is a voluntary program that the co-op offers its membership to pass on some of the savings received from large solar facilities. This program does not involve installing physical solar-related equipment at the member’s residence. There is a waiting list at this time as it is fully subscribed.
Will I still be able to participate in Community Solar?
Net-metered accounts cannot participate in the community solar program. There is potential in the future that United will be able to provide our net-metered accounts with the option to participate in our community solar program.
United will continue serving as a trusted source of information and guidance. Please contact us with any further questions or would like a specific quote evaluated by the Energy Solutions Team.