Why Do Homeowners Go Solar? Environmental Enthusiasm in Colorado

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Homeowner Profiles: A PV Solar Report Exclusive Series

In this series, we profile homeowners around the country who have gone solar. We interview a range of homeowners to gain insights about their motivations for going solar, what factors they weighed in their decision, and how they went about choosing a solar provider. 

If you know homeowners who have gone solar and would like to share their experience, email us at admin@pvsolarreport.com.

Betty Harris and her husband Ray Flesher have taken many steps to reduce their home’s environmental impact. As Betty puts it,  “We’ve done everything we can do other than start over and build a passive house.” 

In addition to a plug-in hybrid car, energy efficiency upgrades, and both geothermal and solar-thermal heating, their Littleton, Colorado home has two PV solar systems. 

Betty and Ray were always mindful of the environment, but sincerely began to change their ways after reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse and seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth a few years ago. Betty says that those works caused her to be “more and more convinced that we ourselves had to do something, because we don’t have enough power to push the corporate government and make them do anything.”

Betty and Ray had owned condos at the time, but when their HOA wouldn’t allow them to install solar, they sold off the condos and bought a house not far away. Betty immediately started doing her homework on installers. 

Betty, now 70, had found a couple installers to be condescending and not direct in answering her questions. “They treated me like a dumb blonde,” she says half-jokingly. Installers can make a big mistake by underestimating women’s role in solar decision making. Especially true in this case: Betty refers several friends a year to SolarCity, the company that installed her solar systems. 

Some other installers, like Sungevity, didn’t appeal to her because they used contractors instead of employees. Betty says, “The problem with that is someone different comes out to your house every time…. [But employees] are people with full-time jobs, and the economy needs that.” Betty went with SolarCity because she says they were both professional and gave her the lowest quote. 

As retirees on a social security income, their tax liabilities were too low to get the full federal investment tax credit, so Betty and Ray leased their systems. The lease terms allowed them to quickly pay off what they owed to avoid some financing costs. 

The household electric bill is now between $100 and $200 a year — and that’s even though the geothermal heating system as well as a converted plug-in Prius are electrically powered, offsetting considerable fossil fuel consumption. 

The only unpleasant part of going solar for Betty was waiting two full months for Xcel Energy to come to the house and install the electric meter. This echoes other complaints we’ve heard, and unfortunately fits with other examples of ill will toward the rooftop solar industry by the utility company. 

There is also a regulation in Colorado that you can’t have PV solar capacity greater than 120% of your annual electric usage. Because Betty and Ray had just moved into their home before going solar, the previous owner’s electric history was used as a proxy, and so Betty and Ray’s initial system was slightly undersized. They have since put in a second system to max-out their allowed capacity. 

The first system is 3.78 kW, comprised of Kyocera 210W modules and a Fronius inverter. The additional system is 2 kW, with Yingli 250W modules and a Power One inverter.