Should solarizers own or rent their panels? It’s complicated, yet simple, according to The Clean Energy States Alliance’s recently released Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs (PDF). And you won’t really know into the dig deeply into the details and ask the hard questions.
(For those, skip to end of this report and the back of the Guide.)
Nationally representing America’s respective state public clean energy funds, the nonprofit CESA’s researchers dug into the solar sector’s data and found an “increasingly complex” marketplace marred by “confusing technical jargon,” its 25-page Guide explained. That includes the escalating payment schedules found in some solar lease agreements, or the fixed rates that complicate power-purchase agreements, which can literally bet your farm on the price of retail electricity rates rising over time. Home equity and unsecured loans for solar panels come too with wide-ranging risks and rewards, from ownership to, well, ownership if things get too globally warmed.
Indeed, after analyzing the three popular options for financing home solar installations, CESA advised shoppers to scrutinize the fine contract print when it comes to home ownership transfers, any of the aforementioned escalations in rates and/or payments, net metering opportunities and especially any federal or local incentives that still exist. That includes the federal government’s 30 percent investment tax credit which, CESA wet-blanketed, “is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016 and may not be renewed by Congress.”
CESA’s Guide also points homeowners in the direction of scientific resources like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory — which last month issued its own assessment of solar loans vs. solar leases — as well as private players like SunPower and many, many more, for further clarity on pretty manageable issues. Of course, CESA reminded, nothing beats a “direct, upfront, cash purchase of a residential solar system” — which is another way of saying that, for their complexity, investment in solar panels is a good bet no matter who owns them.
Sure, third-party arrangements like leases and PPAs can’t take advantage of the ITC, but peruse CESA’s comparison tables and you’ll see the word “homeowner” pop up a lot when it comes to writing checks. That’s because homeowners have to handle everything from insurance to maintenance, although solar panels shouldn’t need much.
CESA’s Guide concludes with a very helpful set a questions about these myriad issues more, which anyone selling you a solar system should be able to handle rather easily. Fire at will, and keep your eyes on the skies.