Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Questions and Issues for a New Installation

Tony is a fellow Jerseyan who is currently researching a solar installation. He made some interesting comments and had some useful questions in a comment thread. I think his contribution would make a useful discussion point so I'm posting it here.

Also, he said nice things about this blog. That's always a good reason to repost!

If anybody has any information or ideas, please share! And Tony, feel free to post any numbers or projections as a comment here.

Here's what Tony said:

I have to say, after perusing the internet for info on this subject this blog has been the most helpful. It's relevance to my situation is great and the focus on the minutia of this undertaking is greatly appreciated. I have never commented on a blog before so I am unsure of the process/protocol. That being said, my comment/question is in regard to my very recent interest and inquiry into solar. I live in central Jersey. I have read a lot of opinions, facts(hopefully) and general information to feel somewhat comfortable discussing it. Last week I had a representative from Mercury Solar pay me a visit. He was a very nice guy and gave a comprehensive and professional presentation. The numbers he proposed in his "solar financial feasibility study" seemed viable and ultimately profitable. I immediately had the "it's to good to be true feeling" wash over me. Just wondering if anyone following this blog has met or dealt with Mercury Solar. If so, could you please offer any and all pos/neg feedback on them. If possible would it be ok for me to post the numbers I was quoted for feedback from all of the current solarites following this blog?


S. Summer said...

Tony...I just recently had my system installed by Mercury down in South Jersey and as I started investigating solar, I too though that it was too good to be true. As time went on though I found it hard to find a reason not to go ahead with it.

I decided to go with Merucry after looking at several other companies for numerous reasons. First of all, they offered me the best price ($4.95/installed watt). But their salesman also seemed the most knowledgable and helpful. I also knew somebody else who had dealt with them and so that gave me a bit of a comforting feel. The other thing that really made me go with them was that I wanted a large company that had been doing solar for a while and that I could have some degree of confidence was going to be around for years to come should I experience any difficulties.

As far as actually dealing with Mercury, it was somewhat of a mixed bag. Everybody I've dealt with at the company has been very accomodating, friendly and helpful. However, I did experience several issues with getting the system installed.

My first issue came with the State Rebate. I was told by the salesmand that the state rebate was going to be on a lottery system..meaning that I would wait for months and not necessarily receive any incentive from the state for my patience and filing of their numerous forms. I decided not to go for the rebate, only to find out at the last minute (through a conversation with somebody at the NJ clean energy program) that the rebate process was in fact not on a lottery system at all. Thankfully my system hadn't been installed yet and so I was still able to get the rebate without much hassle, but it still aggravated me that I was the one who had to inform Mercury how the rebate system worked and not the other way around.

The next issue happened on the first day of my install. The install team arrived promptly at 9am as I was told they would, but when they came to the door, I was told that they did not have my panels in stock. I was given the option of having a slightly less powerful system (9.72 kW as opposed to 9.99kW) or waiting until sometime in 2011. I decided to go with the smaller system. The install team then waited around for about 2/3 of the day for a phone call from their home office to inform them how to proceed. This despite the fact that the number of panels had not changed at all, and the overall layout did not change.

The install finally got started though. For the inconvenience of not having the right panels, they did include a monitoring system at no charge..somehting I had been inquiring with them about. The guys doing the install did an excellent job, and it should be noted that my install was a bit challenging in that I did not want any wiring on the outside of my house. All of the wiring from the panels goes directly into my attic and then is fished through to my basement. This added quite a bit of time onto my install. It took something like 6 or 7 days as opposed to the 2-3 that the quoted me.

I had some other minor issues including one of the installers coming through my attic into the bedroom. This type stuff hapens, I understand, but it's been almost 2 months and I am still waiting for reimbursement for the repairs.

I could go into A LOT more detail, but I kind of feel like I'm rambling as is. If you'd like to email me, I'd be glad to provide any more detail/info I can. I'd rather not post my email in a public spot like this though and so I don't know how to get my info to you.

If you'd like to see details on my install and system production, you can view details via my monitoring system here:


Dave Conifer said...

If anybody wants to secretly exchange contact information (and if you trust me) you could email it to me and I'll pass it on to whoever you wanted it passed to.


Tony S. said...

Dave, thanks for posting my comment and thank you S.Summer for taking the time to respond so quickly and at such length. As for your fear of rambling, ramble on! (If you don't mind) I don't want to burden you with the thousand questions I have, but the information you possess is priceless to all us solar wannabees. It is just this type of information that will ease or confirm our fears of the unknown. I would be happy to offer my email address through our gracious host, Though I think the information would be much valued in this forum. That being said, here are some of the numbers Mercury has quoted me on the Total Solar Prepaid option. The installation would consist of 40 panels 7.4 kWh DC system (module power - 185)with an average annual kWh production of 8,500. Though in the power point he downloaded onto my laptop the annual kWh was only 7,639 and it stated that 87% of my usage would be offset not 100%???) The complete system price is $26,858(after 30% Fed tax cred.) I did inquire about state rebates/credits but was told none currently existed. The proposal then states the loan amount (@ 6.5% interest) would be $233 a month. The 8.5 SREC's produced annually @ $550 each would tally up to approximately $389 a month.(question #987 - are SREC's considered taxable income???) Factor in the $130 a month I will save on my electric bill and I walk away with $286 in my pocket every month. Oooh! there is that "too good to be true" feeling again! Do these numbers reflect reality? Is anybody out there clearing this type of profit consistently? Have you been consistently able to sell your SREC's? I could go on and on but for now I think these are some of the more important financial questions. From the installation standpoint I was concerned about the fact that they did not have your panels in stock. It almost seems like they pulled a bait and switch. They know the customer is anxiously awaiting the installation and they know you have the pressure of the monthly loan. How many people would have actually opted to wait until who knows when for the panels to arrive. Is the less powerful system able to sustain your energy and financial requirements? Have you earned any SREC's yet and if so have you sold any yet?(who's the rambler now?)I will stop here for now. Please get back to me at your convenience. Thanks for all your help. P.S. Let me know if you would prefer my email address.

Dave Conifer said...

I'll interject and add my answers. Remember, though, I'm no expert and certainly no accountant...

- Yes, those numbers all seem reasonable to me.

- Whether or not SRECs are taxable is one of the great mysteries of solar power, and the single most frequent search topic that leads people this blog. If you search you'll see that we've talked about that a lot. In sum, my accountant researched it and decided that they are not taxable. My 2010 tax return did not mention them at all, nor will my 2011. I hope he was right.

- I've never had any problem selling my SRECs immediately after generating them. Think carefully about selecting a broker, if you choose to use one, which I do. There are all different kinds. Again, search this blog for lots of commentary on that.

- I tend to think that Mercury was being truthful about having trouble finding panels. Somehow it seems like there aren't a glut of these things available yet. Just before my installation I asked about switching to a different type and they were like "Whoa, dude, that'll take months." But I don't know this for sure.


Dave Conifer said...

Oops, in my comment I meant to say that my 2009 tax return did not mention my SREC sales, nor will my 2010 one mention them.

2011? Depends on whether anybody makes a definitive ruling by then.

Anonymous said...

I think the numbers sound reasonable. I also live in NJ and we had our system installed at the end of 2009. We met with several companies before selecting one. All the quotes we got for a 9.7kw system were within a few thousand dollars of each other so we decided that the most important consideration was customer service. We ended up going with a a smaller company (SeaBright Solar) because they just seemed the most knowledgable and extremely responsive, also had good vibes from them. I had a ton of questions prior to signing a contract and absolutely everyone I spoke with at their company took the time to make sure I understood everything. I, too, was skeptical with the "too good to be true" ROI analysis of 22%. I worked the numbers a few different ways and on the conservative side, the system would pay for itself in 5 yrs. After having the system installed, I have revised this to be closer to just under 4 yrs. We have also started using our wood burning stove to provide most of our heat in the winter so our electric bills are much lower than the estimates provided by the solar company. We had some issues with our shading analysis in order to qualify for the state rebate and they worked with us to resolve. Honestly, I think some companies would have cut their losses with us, but Seabright hung in there, and made sure we were happy with our system. They floated the payment portions not only from the state, but also federal rebate until after we got our tax return. They handled all the state rebate stuff for us and we didn't have any issues with getting it processed. They also submitted the forms for the NJ certification promptly and we are very happy with the production estimates. Not sure if estimates are still being accepted for new systems, though. Best of luck for a smooth project.

S. Summer said...

The Total Solar Prepaid Option that you mentioned…was that the Sunrun Power Purchase Agreement thing? I debated for quite awhile about the whole Sunrun thing…in the end I opted not to go for it because (1) I didn’t like the idea of somebody else owning something that sits on top of my roof, (2) I didn’t like the open-endedness of the contract…they say that by the end of the contract you’ll be able to negotiate a good price to purchase the panels from them if you want, but whose to say they won’t want top dollar, (3) it actually worked out cheaper to just buy it outright. It was an interesting proposal though

Mercury also offered me 18 months no interest, no payments (they told me they’d be able to offer me that on the Sunrun option too). This helped a lot because it gives you time to obtain the federal tax credit (and any state rebate if there is one), get the SREC account set up and to pay the loan down some before taking out a home equity loan for the balance. You may want to ask about this.

As for my overall opinions of Mercury, it’s kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand they offered me a great price, did an awesome job on the install, and the fact that they’re a larger company and have been around for a while gives me confidence that I’ll have them there down the road should there be any issues. The installers and everyone I’ve dealt with have been exceptionally helpful, respectful, and friendly.

Now on the other hand, because they are a larger company, at times dealing with them has been extremely frustrating. Throughout the process I’ve dealt with probably close to ½ dozen different people (not including the installers). Any slight decision that they have to make has to go through their corporate offices in NY, which at times takes days for something that should take a matter of a minute or two. I’m still waiting for reimbursement of the damages that occurred to my ceiling, and can’t even get an update from them because they haven’t heard back from the NY office. Another thing that aggravated me was after the damages occurred. They told me that they would have their contractor come out and do the work, it would be done promptly and I would have nothing to worry about. Well after a week of them trying to find out their contractor’s schedule (and me looking up at a gaping hole in my bedroom ceiling) I finally told them I was going to have my contractor do the work and they could reimburse me. Surprisingly, the person on the other end of the phone told me that that was probably my best option because in all honesty she didn’t know when they’d be able to get somebody out there!

S. Summer said...

Another thing that really ticked me off…they tried to collect payment from me before the job was done. My contract clearly stated that they were installing the monitoring system, but they didn’t have any in stock. This was fine, as it was last minute add-on, but they sent me a bill for the remainder. I told them I would not pay until the install was complete and until the damages were paid for. The response I got was that the install was “substantially” complete so final payment was due. I pointed out that my contract said payment was due when the work was “complete” not “substantially complete” and reiterated my stance. Well, the monitoring system got installed a few days later, and even though the damages weren’t taken care of yet, I ended up paying them…only because it was December 29th and I needed to pay by 12/31 in order to be able to collect my federal tax credit.

So, to summarize, Mercury is good, but they definitely have their shortcomings...especially in the communications department. However, I do think that if doing it again, I would use them despite some of the aggravation I’ve had. In the end, they did an awesome job with the install and I’m very happy with the end results…knowing (at least hopefully) that they’ll be around should issues arise also gives me some additional confidence in them.

I’ve passed on my contact info to Dave…should you have other questions, feel free to get in touch with me either through this blog (I tend to check it every few days or so), or my contact info.

Good luck with it!!

Dave: by the way, this blog is excellent and helped me greatly when deciding whether to go solar, and again when going through the actual process of going solar. Thanks for all the great info!!

p.s. sorry for having to split this into 3 posts.

solar panels said...

There has a been a lot of solar cell advance out in the market today. With this, I hope that people will be more encouraged to try and use solar power in generating electricity.

Anonymous said...

Hi , I see alot of reference to the SRECS, but what is the future of SRECS in NJ. I'm concerned because if the SREC either go away (see Christie revisiting the NJ Master Energy plan) or the supply from commercial/business/power companies drastically increase the supply, and drives the price down, then I'm in a tough spot having forked over $50K

Richard said...

There are several ways to use solar power around the house and not just for powering.

solar power

Anonymous said...

live in central jersey 12/12
solar did 17kwh.

had it installed july received ok in october