Tell even a close friend that they’ll get something for nothing, and their response will likely range from raising a skeptical eyebrow to giving you a hot slap. But when it comes to powering your home with solar energy, something for nothing may be exactly what you could stand to get.
Back in 2008, SolarCity rolled out its SolarLease program, whittling away the up-front cost of a solar energy system from a hefty $20,000 to a mere $1,000 to $3,000 (provided you sign up for a $70 per month lease for a 2.4-kilowatt system, enough to power a small house). The company also reports that 80% of all installations involve some kind of financing, rather than all cash up front, which sounds pretty attractive.
If you live near Los Angeles or San Francisco, you’ve probably already seen those kelly green SolarCity utility trucks making their way across the freeways. And thanks to a recent deal with Shea Homes, select housing developments in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Washington will now have built-in solar energy systems (yes, those shiny, blue-black panels) on their roofs. While SolarCity users do draw power from their local power grid at night, homeowners are credited for whatever power they produce during the day. The goal for Shea Homes is to offer net-zero electric homes — which means no electric bill for you. Not bad.
If you don’t plan to buy a Shea Home any time soon, you’ll have to install your own solar energy system. SolarCity leases are signed in 15-year terms, currently available for installation in Texas, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut, Colorado, California, and Arizona.
Depending who you believe from posts on SolarCity’s Santa Ana, California Yelp page, the verdict is either incredible — “When the sun is out as it has been, the system is cranking out almost 2000Watts. The meter goes BACKWARDS at 700Watts!!!!” — or will make your 60-year-old mom cry: “[The two installers] disregarded my mothers request with complete rudeness that brought my mom to tears.” We’ll let you decide which Yelper to side with, but if my electricity meter started rotating the opposite direction, this writer would likely invest in a beautiful set of embroidered silk hankies for Mom.
Still not sold?
If you’re still not sold on the idea of a solar energy system — even SolarCity’s leases are pricey over time — that’s entirely understandable. But SolarCity isn’t the only game in town, and both the federal government and many states offer tax incentives for going green. For example, Massachusetts offers a 15% income tax credit, up to a thousand bucks, if you install solar panels on your primary residence.
But if you do decide to go with SolarCity, you’re not alone: the company claims to have already tallied 30,000 installations. California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company has contributed $60 million as a part of a renewable energy deal. And last summer, SolarCity began selling 240-volt electric car chargers that work with Chevy’s all-electric Volt.
Know what you’re signing up for
After looking over multiple reviews from what appear to be actual customers on Yelp, we’ve found what seems to be a pretty clear consensus. In unsurprising news, lots of people use Yelp to vent their frustrations, and we certainly found plenty of that. However, we also found people posting power bills reading Do Not Pay — as in their power companies technically owedthem money. That seems like a good deal to us.
It’s also worth noting that SolarCity is not a manufacturer: the company merely installs the system. The actual photovoltaic cell technologies range from high-efficiency Sanyo panels to cost-efficient, thin-film First Solar modules, so be sure about what you’re getting before you sign any lease.