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Solar Leases, How to Not Get Gouged by PG&E

Solar Leases, How to Not Get Gouged by PG&E
by mbriggs on 07-05-2014 at 12:00 pm

This post will be of primary interest to California residents.

If you haven’t looked closely at your PG&E bill, this may ruin your day. If you live in a house larger than a cracker box, and actually use your lights and air conditioning, the rates you pay are exorbitant. If you live in WA you’ll be paying .06-.08 per kilowatt hour. In CA you are probably paying in excess of .30. I like to call this California’s version of hidden socialism. Check out Electricity Prices by State.

PG&E, of course hides this fact. You need to download the pdf detail for your bill, then surf to page 3.

Note that for the crackerbox Tier 1 Allowance, at .13627 per kilowatt hour, I am allowed 352 kWh. This is just about enough to power my computers and my TV. The majority of my usage is at Tier 4, which costs me .35955 per kWh.

Solar Leases

I recently signed on the dotted line for a solar lease. This means that I have committed to paying Vivint Solar, a monthly fee for the next 20 years. I mentioned this to a friend and he said “Are you nuts?. You’ll have a hard time selling your house as you’ll have to include the remainder of the solar lease as part of the deal.” This perception arises because the “solar lease competition” is doing an awesome job discrediting the program. Read about it at http://solarleasedisadvantages.com/. Fortunately Elon Musk’s company SolarCity is in the game, and adding needed credibility to the space.

The way it works is that I pay zerofor the panels, zerofor installation, and zerofor maintenance. I then pay Vivint .14 per Kilowatt hour for all the power the panels produce. They size the system so that it will accommodate approximately 75% of my power needs, so I continue to pay PG&E, but at the Tier 1,2 rates. This works from Vivint’s perspective as they pick up the federal tax credit. There is an annual increase of 2.9%, but the argument is that PG&E will increase prices at a similar or faster rate.

I could have purchased the panels outright, but would have needed to fork out somewhere between $40-75K, and been responsible for the maintenance. Best case payback is 7 years. Since Vivint owns and maintains the panels I really don’t care if the technology changes.

You may have heard from the companies that sell solar panels that you can push your unused power back on the grid, and have PG&E pay you for it. Ha, ha. PG&E in it’s infinite generosity will pay you .02 / kWh for that power.

To me this is a big win, and I’d think that for a future buyer of my house it would also be a win. I also like extending my middle finger to PG&E.


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