California's new Solar Consumer Protection Guide — it's worth a close read
Published on 03 Oct, 2019 by Michael Bishop
Are you considering solar panels for your California home? If you start a conversation with a local solar installation company, expect them to give you a new 23-page guide prepared by the California Public Utilities Commission (available here). You'll need to sign the guide to confirm you've read it before you can continue with the solar purchase. Fortunately, it's well written and easy to read.
The guide's purpose is to help you navigate the solar purchase decision wisely. It'll help you ask some important questions that you might not otherwise think to ask. It should put you in a much better position to make a confident and smart solar decision.
Should I read the entire guide?
We strongly recommend that you read the full guide, but the guide's first four pages cover the main points. If you already trust the installation company you're working with (because a trusted friend went solar with them and highly recommends them, etc.), you could just skim the rest of the guide. But we think it's well worth a close read.
Our three favorite points from the guide
1) You have plenty of time to decide
The guide includes: "Do not feel pressured to read this guide while the salesperson waits. Ask them to come back at a later date to allow you time to read it."
We love this. Solar is a major purchase decision, and it's totally okay for you to take your time. Most solar installation companies respect this. In fact, we know a solar installation company in the Bay Area that won't let you sign their contract until you've at least slept on it.
Some companies will say you have to act now to get the 30% federal tax credit. But the federal tax credit will still be 26% next year (2020). We think it'll work out best for you financially if you take your time and ask the right questions — even if that means getting a lower tax credit.
2) A solar system costs money
Shadier solar installation companies often claim in their marketing that you can get a solar system for free. Unless you qualify for a solar system through certain low-income programs, that claim is flat-out false.
You might qualify for a solar loan that covers the entire system cost (so you don't have to put any cash down at the time of purchase). And your solar loan payment plus your new utility bill might be lower than what you would have otherwise paid for electricity. Because you're spending less overall in this case, these shadier solar installation companies will probably claim that solar is free. But you're taking the risk that you might end up spending more with solar than without it — your solar system might not have the benefits that the solar installation company claimed it would have. And you're paying interest on the loan — which is a bonafide cost as far as we're concerned. On top of that, taking out a new solar loan could hurt your credit — reducing your financial flexibility.
3) The financial projections are only an educated guess
While the utility will guarantee that your solar system will be credited in the same way for 20 years, they don't guarantee that your rate plan will stay the same. Apart from rates going up over time, your rate plan's structure could change dramatically — and that structural change could significantly reduce the value of your solar system. So hopefully your solar system will save you as much money as the solar installation company thinks it will — but they can't guarantee that.
Again, we appreciate how well written the guide is. In fact, there's nothing at all in it that we disagree with. You can find the best installation companies in your area at SolarReviews.com — these first-class companies should be happy to share the guide with you alongide their own solar proposal, and answer any related questions that come up.