Customers looking to rentable solar panels

GILROY, CALIFORNIA - Ralph Zertuche was tired of paying $200 a month to PG&E, so he went to the Veteran's War Memorial downtown to see what Apollo could do for him.

What he heard, along with about 20 other residents, was a group of sun-savvy professionals who install and maintain rentable solar panels. It was an appropriate venue, too, since solar panels the size of two Ping-Pong tables cover the memorial's roof an generate more than enough power for the house-size building.

"These guys are awesome," Zertuche said in reference to REC Solar and SunRun, two companies that have joined forces to make solar power more affordable to residents. Residents and businesses can rent solar panels from the latter to avoid the heavy upfro t costs of purchasing a system for $35,000 to $40,000.

Then REC installs the systems, and residents pay monthly bills to SunRun for the electricity they use and for continual maintenance. The whole idea is similar to having cell phone service, said Kent Halliburton, a sales manager with REC, which has installed more than 1,600 systems since 2004, mostly in California.

This whole partnership is a dream come true for Sue Koepp-Baker, a Morgan Hill-based customer who attended the event anyway.

"If you really want to know what the final selling point was for me, it was the maintenance and cost benefits," Koepp-Baker told onlooking residents. "It allows my son to live his life and not have to worry about mom and her power."

Before solar entered her life (and spared her sons), Koepp-Baker paid whatever PG&E charged her, she said.

REC's director of sales and marketing, Matthew Woods, pointed to a similar "feature family" that used to spend $2,600 annually on electricity. Now they only pay $200 a year to PG&E, he said, when they need power on rainy days or, say, for bright nighttime Christmas lights. Of course there are still the upfront costs of a rentable system that hover around $15,000 for a small single-family home, and the average monthly payments total roughly $70.

But SunRun's executive vice president of marketing and sales, Lynn Jurich, said renting a solar system allows homeowners to pay a never-changing, flat monthly rate of $0.135 per kilowatt-hour: the unit of electric energy equal to the work of one kilowat over one hour.

As of Nov. 1, PG&E charges residents anywhere from 0.11 to 0.36 per kWh, depending on the usage, but those numbers will only rise as demand increases, Jurich said. All this means SunRun residents will end up saving tens of thousands of dollars on electricity costs during their contract with SunRun, Jurich said, and solar customers do not pay depending on how much sun they suck up or how much unused energy flows back into PG&E's power grid either.

Rates aside, the different presenters said the average 125-square-foot panel system consists of about 18 iridescent panels. This moderate size garners immediate savings, though, because solar-power users receive a $2,000 federal tax credit.

On top of this, increases in property value (which are all but certain) are tax exempt, according to REC and SunRun representatives. Plus, long-term savings from the sun outpace earnings from treasury bonds and high-interest stock options, so Jurich said it is a no-brainer for those concerned with the bottom line.

More residents were concerned with stiffing PG&E, though, after decades of dealing with the only power broker in town. "Let's stick it to the man!" one guest shouted from the back shortly before the presentation ended.



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