At Big Country Electric Cooperative, we often receive questions about residential-scale, member-owned solar power generation. Here’s the step-by-step process for adding solar power as a member of BCEC.
- First, know that, upon interconnection of your member-owned generation, your class of service will change to small general service, standby or auxiliary, pursuant to the Big Country EC tariff, Rate Schedule 202.11. BCEC will provide an energy-based offset in the current billing cycle only for this meter for any inadvertent energy flows as a result of generation exceeding the member-owner’s energy consumption.
- Provide the co-op with your project specifications.
- Inform the co-op of expected completion date and as project nears completion so that an inspection and meter changeout can be scheduled. BCEC requires a minimum of 60 days from initial notification and our receipt of your project specifications to schedule inspection and interconnection.
- Complete and return the Agreement for Interconnection and Parallel Operation of Distributed Generation forms. At this time, a certificate of general liability coverage in an amount not less than $1 million must be provided. An updated certificate must be provided at each renewal of this policy.
Contact Sarah McLen with any questions at (325) 776-3803 or [email protected].
10 Steps To Take Before Installing Solar
As your Touchstone Energy cooperative, Big Country EC hopes to be your source for energy and information. We know that, as prices fall and technology improves, installing a residential solar power system, also called a photovoltaic system, may make sense for some consumers. However it’s important to find out the facts before committing to a purchase. Consider the following 10 steps as you explore whether incorporating solar energy is right for your situation.
1. Make your home more energy efficient before buying a solar power system. Adding insulation, sealing air leaks and completing other basic fix-it projects makes sense for several reasons. You can cut your energy costs immediately, and you’ll be able to reduce your energy needs and solar power system size. Contact Big Country EC about conducting an energy audit of your home.
2. Research, research, research before investing in a residential solar installation. BCEC should be one of your first contacts. Experts at your co-op can answer basic questions, provide resources and direct you to reputable websites, contractors and other experts in your region.
3. Understand how a residential solar power system meshes with your cooperative’s system. Most solar power systems are designed to provide you with a portion of the electricity you need but won’t meet 100% of your power needs. At night and on cloudy days, and possibly at other peak use times, you’ll need more power than your photovoltaic system can produce. That means you’ll still be connected to your cooperative’s power lines. Because these systems are grid-connected, energy can flow both ways. Each utility—including your electric cooperative—sets appropriate policies and rates for connecting solar energy systems to their lines (the grid) and for possibly purchasing any excess energy. Be sure to ask co-op experts about rate structures, interconnection, essential safety precautions and any other connection-related details.
4. Review your current energy use to determine what size system to install. BCEC staff can help you review your past energy use and help you determine how or if the projects you’ve undertaken to improve energy efficiency may help lower your future energy use. One pertinent bit of information is how your energy use fluctuates throughout the day. Having that information will help you determine—with expert assistance—the size and type of system best suited to your situation.
5. Tally upfront costs. Big Country EC does not sell, install or maintain photovoltaic systems, so you will either purchase or lease a system from a contractor who is not a part of the cooperative. If you purchase a solar power system, you will be the owner, and you’ll be responsible for the purchase price, as well as ongoing maintenance and repair costs. If leasing is the option you prefer, you will pay less initially, but you’ll likely have higher ongoing costs. In either case, it pays to spend time figuring out all of the expenses you’ll be responsible for during the life of the system. These may include installation (in addition to the price of the system), interconnection costs, insurance and taxes. If you are leasing, ask about the length of the term, if the contract is transferable to a new homeowner should you sell your home and the potential for price increases, in addition to the same questions you’d ask if you were to purchase a solar power system. In the “credit” column of your price comparisons, look at any incentives, rebates and tax credits offered for purchase or lease of a qualifying residential solar power system.
6. Search for incentives, rebates and tax credits. Financial incentives will help reduce your investment costs. Opportunities vary by state and city, and many have expiration dates. One database that offers details on incentives is dsireusa.org. This website includes an interactive map that shows federal and state incentives, credits, exemptions, grants, loans and rebates for residential, commercial and industrial projects.
7. Accept short- and long-term responsibility. If you purchase a photovoltaic system, you’ll need to meet the requirements of BCEC’s interconnection agreement. That includes paying any costs required to connect to the cooperative’s grid. Local and state officials are responsible for conducting safety inspections, but it’s your responsibility to notify them in advance about your installation. After the interconnection requirements are met and the safety and integrity of your system are approved, your cooperative will take care of connecting it to the grid. But as the owner of the system, you’re responsible for maintenance and system repairs. If you lease a system, your responsibilities will depend on the agreement you sign. Be sure you know and understand what your responsibilities are.
8. Follow all safety precautions. Most solar power systems are connected to the grid. Because of the two-way flow of electricity, excess energy your photovoltaic system collects during the day flows into your cooperative’s lines. This makes you responsible for the safety of cooperative lineworkers and others who may come into contact with a downed power line and your cooperative’s equipment. Improper connection and maintenance of your system may endanger people and the reliability of the grid. For this reason, we require you to carry general liability coverage of $1 million.
9. Choose a reputable contractor to install your solar power system. Start with a list of options garnered from your own research, input from your electric cooperative and guidance from local or state Better Business Bureaus, renewable energy associations, your state energy office, your state attorney general’s office, extension service staff and any other local experts you can call on for assistance and advice. Contact at least a few of those contractors appearing on your list, especially if recommended by multiple state and local experts. Winnow your list after asking many questions, checking out other installations the contractor has completed, comparing bids (get at least three), checking references and thoroughly examining con-tracts. If possible, ask a contract specialist or lawyer to review the contract before signing.
10. Maintain good records. Keep files on your prepurchase research and preinstallation data provided by your cooperative, as well as bids, contracts, inspection reports, maintenance records and all other details you may need to refer to in the future. In addition, you’ll want to know about system performance, so set up a system to track and compare your system’s performance with predictions provided by the contractor.
Questions To Ask Solar Contractors Before Signing a Contract
As with any major home improvement project, purchasing from the right source is every bit as important as the product you are purchasing. Due diligence is critical to ensure you get the best system for a fair price and that it’s installed correctly and on time. Here are some examples of helpful things to find out about the installation of your residential solar power system.
Be sure to request from your contractor copies of insurance documents, certifications and licenses so you know that the contractor and installers have completed all required training. Be sure to call former customers and check out other installations the contractor has completed. You should query your local Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office, and check online rating services for comments about the contractor and any equipment you plan to purchase. Ask the following questions to be sure the contractor knows the business thoroughly and has satisfied other customers.
- How long have you been in business?
- Are you licensed to do business in my state?
- How many photovoltaic systems have you installed? Can you provide a list of references in my area? Can I talk with former customers and also see successful installations?
- Who will do the installation at my site? Are they employees or subcontractors? If you involve subcontractors, do they work with a number of other employers, too? Have these subcontractors worked on many of your installations?
- What training have you and your installers had and what, if any, certifications do you and your installers hold? Are any of your installers licensed master electricians, and is there an installer on your team licensed to install solar power systems?
- Does your company carry general liability insurance coverage for at least $1 million, professional liability insurance and workers’ compensation? Does your company carry any other type of insurance?
- Have you ever been involved in a legal dispute involving a solar installation?
Installation at Your Home
Ask these questions to learn specific details of what the contractor is proposing and why, as well as general information on what you can expect during and after installation.
- What size and type of system do you recommend for my site? Why?
- Are there any steps I must take before the installation—such as removing trees or replacing my roof?
- What brand(s) of systems do you install? What advantages do these brands offer over other options? Are the systems manufactured in the U.S. or elsewhere?
- What warranties do you and the manufacturer offer? Do you offer a warranty on installation? If the manufacturer is not located in the U.S., are there any potential difficulties with warranty work? How do I make a claim on defective or short-lived equipment?
- What tax credits, rebates and other incentives will this installation qualify for? Who files the paperwork for those incentives?
- How much of my energy usage will this system provide?
- What will the payback period be?
- Will I be able to monitor the energy output of my solar panels? What is the process for doing so?
- How and when will you involve staff from my electric cooperative in the installation? Do you have experience interconnecting solar power systems with utility grids?
- Will permits be needed for this installation? If so, who obtains and pays for them?
- When will you begin the installation? How long will it take to complete?
- What is your daily schedule? (For example, is it Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., with an hour for lunch?)
- Will you be on the job site daily? If not, how will we communicate if there are questions or problems that arise? And how do I reach you after hours?
- If my energy use changes, can I increase the number of solar panels later?
- Is it possible that the installation may cause my roof to leak? If so, does your company take responsibility for repairs?
Bid and Contract
All of this information should be included in your bid and on the contract you sign. Check these details carefully, then compare to other bids you obtain. (Get at least three bids, all in writing.) Be wary of any really low bids. If the contractor can’t supply the information, ask why not. After checking any contract to be sure this information is included, have a contract expert or lawyer review the contract before signing it. Ask your contractor the following questions.
- Is this bid an estimate or a fixed price? What is the process you will follow if you encounter unexpected problems with this installation and want to charge extra to fix the problems?
- Does the bid include the total cost of the project, including components, materials and labor?
- Does the bid include a breakdown of each of the components (make and model number, size/kilowatt-hour use per year and the price of each) so I can see what each portion will cost?
- Does the bid include details about permits?
- Does the bid include the time frame for beginning and ending the installation?
- Does the bid include warranty information, including how to place a claim?
- Does the bid include expected operation and maintenance costs; projected monthly, annual and lifetime costs and savings; and projected energy production?
- Does the bid include information on payment methods as well as financing details, if offered as a payment method?
- Does the bid include details about who will file paperwork for tax credits, rebates and other incentives?
- What documentation will I receive when the project is done? (This may include lien releases and other contract-related paperwork, as well as warranties, operating manuals and more.)
Ask these questions to find out how you will be billed and the expected payment due dates.
- How much will the down payment be? When will it be due?
- What is the payment schedule?
- How long after work is completed will the final payment be due?
- Do you offer financing or have a relationship with a bank that offers financing?