Big Country Electric Cooperative has been inundated with calls in recent months from third-party solar power contractors and members who have been approached by them to install solar photovoltaic systems at their homes. More often than not, the co-op is brought into the conversation late in these negotiations, after the member has already entered into a contract.
In most cases, the member is led to believe that the PV system will effectively eliminate their electric bill, which is simply not the case in our area of the country. A few solar power contractors have stated or given the impression that they are working on behalf of Big Country EC or are endorsed by us, which is not true either.
These calls have escalated since February’s winter storm and associated outages, with many people being led to believe that residential solar generation is a good source of backup power during an outage. That’s typically not the case!
As a safety precaution, when there is a power outage, all solar generation is automatically disabled to prevent a potentially fatal backflow of power to lines that crews may be working on. A battery system tied to solar could provide some backup power, but such systems are expensive to install and can only store limited energy. If the sun isn’t shining, solar panels won’t generate power, which means batteries will be depleted—leaving you in the dark.
If backup power is your primary concern, consider a backup generator installed by a licensed electrician. But keep in mind that there are safety concerns for installation and operation of generators. In addition, the costs and financing of these systems aren’t always in the best financial interests of many consumers. The terms may sound attractive, but they might not be a prudent investment if you’re looking to save or make money.
Homeowners seeking to save money on their electric bill might be better off considering efficiency upgrades such as better insulation, sealing doors and windows, and updating appliances and lighting.
On top of the upfront costs and considerations of installing solar power systems, there are also long-term operating and maintenance factors to consider and requirements that must be met to interconnect with our electric grid, which solar contractors may not know or share with you.
While Big Country EC supports the use of renewables in our area, it’s our duty to look out for the best interests of our members. The recent proliferation of pop-up companies looking to make a quick buck is concerning because their sales representatives are just that—salespeople, who have sales experience instead of knowledge of the energy industry. Their primary goal could be a quick sale before moving on to the next prospect.
For all of these reasons, we ask that you contact us first before signing a contract to install solar generation at your home. We have a new solar calculator tool on our website that can be very helpful in your considerations. To use this calculator and for a wealth of solar-related information, visit our website, bigcountry.coop, click on Member Forms and Notices, then Residential Solar.