‘People will be rushing to get (the tax credit) before it’s gone.’
It is one of the most tired lines in the sales profession: There’s never been a better time to buy.
However, when it comes to solar energy systems in 2019, that statement holds some truth.
This is the final year American consumers can receive a 30 percent federal tax credit for having a residential solar energy system installed. That credit will drop to 26 percent in 2020, and 22 percent in 2021, before dropping altogether for residential customers.
“That’s going to push our market,” said Barry Jacobson, president of Gainesville-based Solar Impact, Inc. “We’re expecting this to be a good year. People will be rushing to get (the tax credit) before it’s gone.”
In addition, prices for solar materials and installation have dropped dramatically.
In 2010, Patrick Altier left the banking industry to buy Solar Trek, Inc., an Ocala solar contractor, from Vincent Biel, his father-in-law. Altier recalled residential systems selling for $70,000 then.
In the meantime, more consumers have adopted solar technology, more manufacturers have gotten into the market, and 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted “renewable portfolio standards” requiring increased production of energy from renewable sources like solar energy.
“Now, a residential system, using American-made products, is about $28,000,” Altier said.
Jacobson and his wife, Elaine, founded Solar Impact, Inc., of Gainesville in 2007, frustrated by their experiences trying to buy solar for their home, according the company’s website.
“The price has gotten to the point where it’s truly cost-effective,” Jacobson said. “Even if you have no interest in the environmental side of it, it’s just cheaper to get solar electricity than to buy from the grid.”
Nancy Myers of Dunnellon, who with her husband, Dr. Dane Myers, owns the Grumbles House Antique and Garden Shop and Cedar Street Boutique, converted to solar energy earlier this month. She said concerns over climate change influenced her decision.
“I’m concerned about the future, and I just think we have to do something about our carbon footprint,” Myers said.
According to Myers, the journey to taking her businesses solar began two years ago, on an airplane trip, when she talked with her son, Taylor, now 25, and confessed feelings of burnout.
“Taylor took an interest in the business,” Myers recalled. “He said, ‘I want healthy, happy parents again.’ He invested a bunch of young energy in showing us new ways to do things.”
One of Taylor Myers’ suggestions to his parents was to invest in solar.
“This neat old house the Grumbles is in a 110-year-old, two-story house,” Nancy Myers said. “My power bill is just outrageous. It’s probably $600 a month and it goes up to $1,100 a month sometimes.”
The Myers family interviewed several companies, asking if they could place panels on the roof of the 25-year-old Cedar Street Boutique building to relieve the power bill of the antique Grumbles House. Officials with Power Production Management of Gainesville said they could.
“It’s not going to relieve both buildings,” Nancy Myers said of the system. “In fact, it’s probably not going to do 100 percent of Grumbles House, but it will do a big chunk of it. I’m excited about the prospect of eventually saving money on it.”
Since the installation is for business use in a rural area, the Myers family qualified for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant under the Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP.
“The USDA grant is $30,000, like 25 percent of the total,” Nancy Myers said. “We’re still paying $100,000 out of pocket.”
These are busy times for the solar industry in Florida: In 2018, the Sunshine State moved past Massachusetts into the No. 2 ranking for solar jobs in the U.S. A report by the Solar Foundation, a national nonprofit advocating solar development, showed Florida gained 1,769 jobs in 2018, increasing the state’s total to 10,358 solar workers. That is still well behind California, which had 76,838 solar jobs in 2018, according to the Solar Foundation.
Altier said Solar Trek’s business is up 140 percent year over year. Jacobson guessed “off the top of my head, 25 percent growth” for Solar Impact.
Both warned booming markets can attract fly-by-night types and urged consumers interested in converting to solar energy to do their homework first.
Altier cited a passage in Chapter 489 of the 2018 Florida Statutes covering solar contractors: “A contractor, certified or registered pursuant to this chapter, is not required to become a certified or registered solar contractor or to contract with a solar contractor in order to provide services enumerated in this paragraph that are within the scope of the services such contractors may render under this part.”
Altier said that law opens the door for unlicensed people to enter into contracts for solar.
“You could have somebody sitting in their underwear in New Jersey, who could say, ‘Let’s put solar in for you. It’s going to be $30,000. Send me a check for 50 percent,’ ” he said. “Because there is no regulatory body for that person, they are not licensed, who are you going to file a complaint with? There’s no recourse.”
Altier suggested shoppers for solar “should always be getting a minimum of three bids.”
“Do not sign with the first person who walks through the door,” he said. “What should be a fantastic experience and investment can turn into a frustrating money pit if you don’t do your homework.”
Altier also urges consumers to choose contractors belonging to associations with professional standards and certifications. His Solar Trek is a member of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, known as FlaSEIA.
Jacobson’s Solar Impact is listed in the directories of FlaSEIA and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, known as NABCEP. Power Production Management, the contractor for the Grumbles House/Cedar Street Boutique project in Dunnellon, has NABCEP certification. The websites of FlaSEIA and NABCEP have member directories.
“The buyer should be asking for licensing and evidence of insurance,” Altier said. “In their contracts, they should be making sure that the materials are defined.”
Jacobson cautions consumers to look for licensed contractors.
“It can be an electrical contractor, but I would recommend a solar contractor because they have more special training,” he said. “And the system needs to be designed by a professional engineer. Not everyone is doing that, unfortunately.”
Jacobson also urges shoppers to beware of “lead generators.”
“They don’t have a solar company behind them, but they call you up and tell you all these great things,” he said. “Then they will sell the leads to whoever is willing to pay them, which really cuts into the quality at that point.
“Look at the company and do a little research,” Jacobson said. “Do they have their own staff? Do they have their own licenses? Or are they just out there generating leads?”
Nancy Myers is hoping to promote consumer awareness in Dunnellon with a free solar-themed Earth Day celebration set for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on April 22, at Cedar Street Boutique, 11875 Cedar St. She said the event is to feature entertainment, food and short presentations by representatives from the solar energy industry, lenders who finance installations, and others.
“I’m also hoping to get people who have solar installed in their homes so they can talk to Mr. and Mrs. Jones who show up so that it’s not just salespeople hammering something into their heads,” Myers said. “I want them to get knowledge in a couple different ways.”