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CBS47 Special Report: Affordable Solar Energy

There is a new program that allows you to get the savings associated with solar panels, for little to no money down.
The thought of solar panels may seem like a good idea, but during tough economic times, who has tens of thousands of dollars to invest? There is a new program that allows you to get the savings associated with solar panels, for little to no money down. Power is not cheap and everyone wants to save money.

Rick Ellison lives in Selma, where he is on a time of use plan with PG&E. “We couldn't use power. It was astronautically expensive, because of that time of use meter." But today, Rick feels a lot different after going solar about a year ago. “Cost savings. Lots of cost savings. It's been hundreds of dollars of savings each month,” said Rick. Rick went solar without spending tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, he is participating in a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA). Another company owns the panels on his property and he pays them a lower rate for the power.

Russ Smithson with Verengo Solar Plus said, "In an economy that's down like this, most people don't really have a lot of cash flow, so the fact that most people, if they qualify for this, it costs nothing. It immediately changes the five tier structure to a three tier structure." Russ is referring to PG&E’s system where customers pay more per unit of energy as their energy use increases. In a power purchasing agreement, you continue to pay PG&E for the first two tiers that cost less than 20 cents per kilowatt hour and your solar panels make up the rest. You pay the solar panel company a set rate, which is typically in the mid 20's, much less than the more than 30 cents per kilowatt hour those in the top three tiers pay PG&E. "This is basically a business model that allows us to compete in a situation where otherwise PG&E has a regional monopoly. But once we utilize the homeowners property rights, we’ll know we have a means to sell electricity and to deal with the problem," said Russ.

PG&E says there are about 63,000 customers that have roof top solar and more sign up every year. You may think PG&E is against solar, but the power company says that is not the case. Denny Boyles with PG&E said, “We don't sell solar. We're not profiting from you putting it on your house. Yet we still advocate for our customers to do it. I have solar on my home. There's a lot of PG&E employees who have solar on their home. And I have it for the same reason as everyone else; it helps me manage my energy costs.”

Mike and Emily Salway are raising five young children, and saving money by managing their energy costs is exactly what had them looking at solar years ago. But the upfront cost kept them from taking the leap. “After looking at the PPA program, you know, to have zero cost out of pocket, have them maintain everything, have zero maintenance costs and yet our bill comes down instantly right away, but more importantly it drops for the next 20+ years, that's what kind of finally sold us on it,” said Mike. The Salways just got their new solar panels and expect to save money quickly. “Saving maybe a hundred dollars a month will help, putting it in the bank to save, that's what we like to do with extra money,” said Emily.

Clif and Desrie Van Putten knew the moment they moved to Fresno many years ago, they wanted to go solar. There's plenty of sun, not much water, but lots of sun and so it seemed logical that we would try to harness that when the price was right,” said Clif. They liked worry free maintenance with the SPPA. “We're not liable for any damage or even the production. If the production drops or if the units are vandalized or even stolen, it's up to the owner to repair it,” said Clif.

So with all the positives, is there a downside to a SPPA? Desrie Van Putten said, “For me, the thing that made me hesitate was making sure that I understood what the risks would be and how difficult it would be to sell the home.” Desrie is a real estate agent and so with a little research, it was easy to find the answer. She says a buyer needs to let their mortgage broker know about the power purchase agreement. “Because that will have to be factored into your debt ratio and added into what you're actually going to borrow,” said Desrie. That's not something the Van Putten's are concerned about. They say they're happy with their decision to go solar because they are saving money and helping the environment at the same time.

Click the related link for more information on the Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA).

Russ Smithson- Verengo Solar Plus
Office: 559-549-5409
Cell: 559-681-9895
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