One of the fun things about being a columnist is that you have an excuse to do stuff just for the story. When I’m curious about something that I have no financial business looking into, I can say I’m researching a column.
That’s how I found out that I can buy a new house for the price of solar panels on my roof.
Disclaimer: I only contacted one company, which will remain nameless. Maybe there are cheaper companies out there that won’t require me to sell a kidney on the black market to go solar. However, this one actually installed solar systems for people who know people who know people that I know, and following that thread, I called a number, filled out a couple of questionnaires, and got a personalized quote for putting solar panels on my roof.
The “foot soldier,” as he referred to himself, showed up at my house pretty close to the scheduled time. That’s impressive since the guy started his day on the other side of Pittsburgh, went to Ohio, stopped over here in Brockway, and was heading another two hours away after my consultation. His job is to take pictures, measure spaces, and then connect me on an iPad to the actual salesperson – a guy in Virginia with a digital background that is clearly covering up his palatial estate so he can seem like a man of the people. I know an insanely expensive shirt when I see one. I used to work for a guy who said he never pays less than $1,000 for a dress shirt. I am not making that up.
Here are the basics you need to know. First, they will handle all the permitting and contact with the electric company. Next, a solar power system needs a converter and a battery. The 380-watt panel collects UV rays and transmit DC to the converter, which makes it AC power. That AC power is then stored in the battery, powering your house or being sent back into the grid. You don’t get paid for the power back into the grid, but they have these electricity NFTs called Solar Renewable Energy Certificates that fluctuate in price, but currently are running at about $41. You sell those on a commodity market at the end of the year, to most likely, Amazon. Finally, the goal is to become energy independent, which solar might be able to do for you. Emphasis on “might.” The guy couldn’t promise me that my already-low bill would go down to 0, and he also couldn’t promise that I would get any of those certificate thingies. I appreciate that he didn’t want to overpromise.
The battery will need to be replaced every 10 years or so, so there are maintenance costs they don’t mention in the commercials. Also, it doesn’t sound like you get 100% off the grid, because that battery has a “Priority Backup” function, so if you have a power outage, you can still have power to the house. I liked that function because I would totally yell “Lock in auxiliary power!” the first time the lights began to dim, but I digress.
How long would all this take? The permitting and inspections and stuff will run anywhere from three to six months. Construction is two or three days. At the moment, there is a tax benefit, and they use that as a kind of down payment for the first year.
Oh, and it’s a 25-year loan through a group they provide.
I know what you’re thinking: “Is there even enough sunlight to run solar in this area?” Apparently, the answer is yes. We live in a valley and our yard is surrounded by trees, yet their fancy computer system – which uses solar and weather data for, like, 20 years to calculate stuff – said our house has 97% solar access. We get an average of about three hours of sunlight on our roof, so we could safely plan for most of our power to come from solar. All we had to do was more than double our electric bill to pay for the solar program.
When he went through all the electricity-saving extras that are free (meaning, included in the price but they pretend otherwise, I’m sure), I discovered that Joy and I have already done them. His checklist to make a house solar-ready was already checked before they could even inspect the place! The only thing I have left to do is put solar panels on the roof! He said we would be on their lowest plan, which was 18 panels and a 6.85 kilowatt system, whatever that means. That comes at a low, low price that is about what I paid for my house.
(Numbers are not being provided here, but the dude acted like this was the cheapest system he’s ever seen!)
The fact is, I could probably afford it as long as we don’t have any surprise health issues, our cars run forever and never need to be replaced, Joy gets a second job, I get a third job, the Courier continues to run my columns, my other freelancing gigs keep bringing in cash, I never buy another comic book again, my job doesn’t go away after a future government ends public education, the roof doesn’t start to leak (it’s 25 years old, by the way), we get all our nutrition from protein powder, we find out we have a rich relative we never knew about and they left us all their money, and my blood plasma sells at a good price.
See? Perfectly reasonable.
I want to do what’s best for the environment. I prefer to build a world where my son will thrive, not one where he has to solve all the problems I ignored. I would love to decrease my carbon footprint to virtually nothing. I love getting in on the ground-level of the future.
But I can’t.
So, now I know that whole-house solar is still a rich person’s game. Maybe I can do some DIY solar and take a few of my appliances off the grid, but that will be about it.
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Andrew Bundy is a husband, father, teacher, writer, and nerd. You can reach him at email@example.com.