In a previous column about my becoming an owner of a home solar energy system, I explained why I decided to go solar and how I selected a solar company. I also mentioned I still had a long way to go before I was generating solar power, more than four months to be exact.
In today’s column I’ll tell the story of that process, so that readers who haven’t gone solar yet will know a little more about how solarization unfolds, which can be long and convoluted.
As Frankie, the friendly and competent salesperson who sold me the solar system explained early on, I still had four more major steps to go: 1) site evaluation, 2) permitting, 3) material procurement and installation and 4) inspection and permission to operate.
I thought I’d give my readers a chronological journal of this part of my solar adventure.
July 15—I decide to go with my solar company (let’s call it Solar A), based on a preliminary design for the panels needed for the size of my house.
July 20—A solar technician named Harry, about my age and wearing a bright orange “Solar Guy” T-shirt, comes to my house to measure the roof, check the different pitches of the roof and angles the sun hits the home, as well as checking the electrical boxes on the property. This information will help Solar A’s engineers create specific plans for the project. Solar A will then send me an updated design plan for review.
July 25—After reviewing an updated design plan, I officially sign on with Solar A, via electronic documents.
July 27—I pay Solar A, electronically, $1,000 as a down payment.
July 27 (later that day)—After Solar A contacts PG&E, I electronically sign a PG&E “Agreement and Customer Authorization (Form 7901151A-02).
August 3—I pay, electronically, 30 percent of the total cost of the solar project, which covers the design completion and permit submission to the City of Los Banos. This payment enables Solar A to buy the materials for the project and begin to work with Solar B, a subcontractor that will do the installation.
September 21—Solar B sends a team of two friendly and efficient people, Juan and Gabriel, to do the installation. The installation consists of several steps including penetrations, racking, and wiring with the microinverters and finally the solar panels themselves, as well as an upgrade of the house’s main electrical panel.
(Some additional notes on installation: A few days prior to September 21, Solar B delivered the panels and stored them in my back yard. During the electrical panel upgrade, PGE had come out and do “disconnect/reconnect,” during which they unlock the meter and shut off the power for Solar B to be able to do any electrical work. Also, the installation of the solar panels was completed on another date, a few days after September 21.)
September 26–I pay, electronically, 70 percent of the total cost of the solar project, leaving only one more payment due after project completion of $500.
October 21—Solar A tells me the plans and permit have made it to its home office. Solar B will be requesting the city inspection for the following week. Once Solar B hears back from the city on which day, it will notify me. On the morning of the inspection, the solar company will call the city inspector’s office to confirm an appointment. Later that week the city inspector comes to my house.
October 31—Solar A tells me my project has passed the final inspection and will now apply for PTO (Permission To Operate) with PG&E.
November 21—I receive from PG&E an email that my Net Energy Metering Application (Form 79-115B-02) submitted by Solar A has been received. The email verifies that the non-refundable interconnection fee of $145 has also been received from Solar A.
November 29—I receive a notice from PG&E that I have received approval to turn on my solar system. PG& E also informs me that it may take up to two billing cycles before my bill is updated to include my NEM credits. Solar B helps me turn on my system.
And now, at the start of December, just a mere four and a half months after agreeing to my solar project, it’s up and running. Soon after, clouds come in and it rains for four months, during which very few rays from the sun reach my solar panels.
Two notes: I gave you, dear readers, only the core details of the process. If I included all the details, including the many times when there were frequent and ongoing miscommunications among PG&E, Solar B and the city inspector’s office, this column would have been three times longer.
And finally, throughout the whole process the person who sold me the system, Frankie, kept in continual contact with me, preparing me for the next steps and answering all my frequent questions. This ongoing diligence is another reason I’m grateful for choosing Frankie as my salesman.
In a few weeks I will submit my third and last solar column, in which I’ll tell my readers what “NEM” means and describe my first PG&E bill reflecting my solar power.
In memoriam: Los Banos, Turlock and Rotary International lost a great woman in the passing of Sharon Silva. She is an example of how one person—who is dedicated and determined—can accomplish so much for her community.