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Understanding Your Electricity Bill Part 1: The Basics
Aug27

Understanding Your Electricity Bill Part 1: The Basics

Hello solar drops and droplettes!  Electricity bills can seem quite cryptic to the uninitiated, so we are going to do our best to demystify the bills for our readers.  It is our hope that you will gain a better understanding of your electricity usage, utility rates and schedules, how you can reduce your personal usage and save money.  Once you understand how your electricity rates works, you’ll be able to determine whether or not replacing all or part of your electricity with solar makes sense in your specific situation. We’ll focus on the basics of the bill page-by-page, focusing mainly on the first and third page because the other pages contain no usage data.  Future articles will address other aspects of electricity bills, some of which were outlined above and others that will be generated directly from questions you may have.  Please post any questions in the comments and I would be happy to answer them in a later article.  Now, grab a copy of your bill to follow along, and without further ado, let’s dive in! *Please note that the example bill for this article is from Southern California Edison (SCE). Most bills have the similar information, but if there are some serious differences, feel free to ask about them.  I will address all questions in later articles or directly in the comments.* Page one is your account summary. Most of the important numbers on the bill are on this first page. The customer account number is in the upper right-hand corner. This number can be used to check your account history online or over the phone. The customer account refers to any properties signed up with the utility under the same name. The service account number is associated with specific addresses that are under the customer account. Underneath this number and associated address is the rotating outage number, which may be used to access information about scheduled blackouts for your outage group (this information is available online or by phone as well). Just below the top portion of the bill is the invoice summary of the previous bill amount, your payments, the current balance and any new charges that have accrued in the current billing period, which is listed in the top left-hand corner. Below the summary is the reading from your meter in kilowatt-hours (kWh). It provides a graph that shows your daily average electricity usage (kWh).  Use this tool to compare your daily usage as it varies month-to-month and season-to-season. The bill also offers data on your average daily usage by the year, so if you have been making efforts to reduce your usage, those...

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Nitty Gritty Details

What’s the Difference Between a Solar Lease and a Solar Power Purchase Agreement? For those of you who are comparing different options for going solar, your main choices are purchasing a system as an addition to your home, buying a new or upgraded home with solar already integrated as a feature, buying your electricity utility-style through a solar power purchase agreement (SPPA), or signing up for a solar lease.  The latter two choices are very similar and require a closer look to distinguish one from the other.  (For a comparison between purchase options and SPPAs check out this article.) Sleek solar tiles from Applied Solar. To start off, it’s important to cover the basics of how both financing models work.  The SPPA option has been described in detail in this article, but for now it’s best just to cover the practical details of how these agreements function: SPPA stands for “Solar Power Purchase Agreement.” The SPPA provides the benefits of solar with little to no upfront cost (usually between 0-$2000). The agreement is usually termed for 15-20 years, and is transferable to another owner or home. A solar services provider charges a set rate per kilowatt-hour. The electrical rate can remain flat, but is more commonly contracted with a fixed annual increase of around 3%. The solar utility maintains, monitors, and insures the system over the term of the agreement. The solar utility that purchased the panels benefits from the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and any Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that are generated. The installer (sometimes separate from the solar services provider) receives any available money from state rebates (which means the homeowner didn’t have to pay part or all of the cost of installation). Most SPPAs have options to buy the system throughout the term of the agreement or to pre-pay for all of the remaining electricity at a discounted rate while deferring the responsibilities of ownership to the solar utility. The home is always tied to the grid, so any excess electricity used beyond what the panels produce is purchased from the grid utility. Homeowners that want to pursue this option must be properly qualified with a minimum amount of monthly electricity usage, proper sun exposure and roof orientation as well as excellent credit (usually FICO 680 or better). A handy illustration of how an SPPA integrates into the grid electricity system. Next up, the solar lease has become a popular option because, like the SPPAs, homeowners don’t have to buy a system.  They just make a monthly payment and receive the benefit of clean electricity. Here’s the skinny on leases: There is commonly no upfront cost....

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To Buy or Not to Buy? Solar System Purchase Vs Power Purchase Agreement
Jun20

To Buy or Not to Buy? Solar System Purchase Vs Power Purchase Agreement

Solar System Purchase vs. Power Purchase Agreement  Long before there were any federal or state funds to help offset the initial investment of a residential solar system, installations were on the rise.  Solar adoption has increased significantly since the inception of the federal solar tax incentive in 2006, which rebates 30% of the purchase price of the system.  In 2007, the California Solar Initiative was implemented to offset all or part of the cost of installation in proportion to the system’s actual or projected performance.  With all of this support from the government, it’s no wonder that more people have gone solar in the last two years than the last twenty years combined!  A portion of these new systems were not purchased by homeowners however. Companies like Sun Run and Solar City offer the benefits of solar without the upfront cost of the system through the contracted sale of solar electricity in what is known as a solar power purchase agreement, or solar PPA.  A solar PPA brings a mini-power plant right to a home-owner’s roof, so there is no additional charge for delivery, which usually accounts for as much as 40% of an average electricity bill.  No delivery charges plus savings from federal and state rebates drive the cost down, making solar electricity rates cheaper than the majority of grid rates.  For more information on these agreements and how they work, see this informative article about SPPAs . Up until recently, homeowners have had no choice when it comes to buying power.   Customers sign up for an indefinite PPA with their local utility when they move in to a new residence and watch their electricity bills increase every year.  Now homeowners have the option to buy their own power plant and create electricity on-site or defer the ownership of the same system to a solar services provider, in which case they tack on another utility bill but potentially protect themselves from electricity rate hikes. So which option will work best for you?  That depends on several factors, including your own values in regards to ownership.  Put simply, for those who don’t have the up-front capital to invest in their own system, the SPPA may make more sense as long as the combination of their post-solar utility bill and the solar bill is less than what they were paying on the pre-solar utility bill.   If ownership is important to you, but funds are still a factor, there are financing options available which will result in a monthly payment towards the purchase of the system.   This purchase option ends up looking very similar to a system lease,...

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Solar Power Purchase Agreements

If you are looking for the benefits of solar electricity with little to no upfront cost, minimal risk, and no maintenance responsibilities, you may want to look into a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA).  The sections below begin with a short and simple summary under each heading, followed by a more in-depth explanation to aid in understanding this solar option. What is a normal Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)? A PPA is an agreement in which the customer agrees to buy electricity from a power source at a particular rate per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Everyone who buys electricity from a utility company such as PG&E or Southern California Edison enters into a PPA without much choice in the matter.  You agree to pay for the generation, transmission, and distribution of the electricity from their power plant in a tiered rate schedule per kWh for an indefinite amount of time.  Typically, these rates increase every year in proportion to the utility’s increasing costs. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) sets a limit to how much profit these companies make every year, so their increasing costs are caused by anything from increasing salaries and pensions to making repairs caused by weather, accidents, or the aging infrastructure of the grid.  Whatever the cause of the increasing cost of electricity, homeowners have little choice but to continually pay more for what they use, or use less grid power.  The latter choice is where solar options (purchase, lease, or PPA) come in. What is a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA)? An SPPA is similar to a PPA, except that the source of power is located on the homeowner’s property, and the agreement often includes a contracted increase in rates as well as an amount of time the user agrees to purchase the power. An SPPA is an agreement in which a third-party owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic system, and a host customer agrees to have the system installed on their property. Homeowners simply purchase the electricity utility-style from the solar services provider for a predetermined period rather than purchasing the system itself.  This framework is referred to as the “solar services” model, and the developers who offer SPPAs are known as solar services providers.  There are several other players involved in this model. The utility company continues to provide part of the host customer’s electricity.  The equipment manufacturer provides the hardware for the system, which the installers implement and maintain.  Investors, such as US Bank, provide the capital for the equipment.  A seperate special purpose entity manages the solar electricity payments, tax benefits, depreciation, ownership and leasing between the solar services provider and investors. SPPAs enable...

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economic recovery act of 2009 helps you buy solar

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed earlier this year resulted in historic events for the solar power industry. But I noticed that many people out there are still not aware of the benefits. Today I want to highlight the key benefits this legislation has brought to people and organizations who choose to invest in solar panels. tax paying corporations now qualify for a 30% federal tax grant in lieu of a tax credit. A “tax grant” works similar to a rebate in which the U.S. Treasury Department will send a corporation 30% cash payment based off the final cost of the system. This is a limited time offer, only solar electric systems which commence installation before the end of 2010 will qualify. 50% bonus depreciation has been extended for corporations who install solar panels by the end of 2009 $2,000 tax credit cap has been eliminated for solar hot water systems, now solar thermal panels can qualify for the full 30% tax credit. There are many more provisions in the law that helps develop renewable energy technology, SEIA (solar energy industry association) has put together an executive summary that’s really helpful, check it out...

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