Frequently Asked Questions

Why is this a good time to go solar?

First, the price of solar panels has gone down considerably in recent years, while electricity rates have kept climbing. Second, valuable tax credits can reduce your solar installation costs by up to 65%, but the federal and state taxes only apply to installations completed by 2016 and 2015, respectively. Finally, the group discount secured by our Solarize program reduces the cost even further.

Is my home right for solar?

Solar works best on structures facing south, southwest, and southeast. There should be little or no shading from trees, buildings, chimneys or roof gables. Your roof should be in good condition. There are no hard and fast rules, it depends on your site, and your free solar home assessment will examine these issues. If your roof isn't ideal, consider constructing a solar carport that protects your cars and powers your home.

To estimate how much solar power is available at your home, a good rule of thumb is that 100 sq. ft. are needed for 1 kW capacity panel, that for North Carolina conditions, will generate between 1,000 -- 1,500 kWh per year.

What if I rent, or my home isn't a good solar location? Can I still participate?

Yes! We are raising funds to build an educational solar array at a Chapel Hill Carrboro City School. The students will be involved in the design and installation, and the generation will be output on the internet for future classes to investigate. When you contribute, your donation is tax deductible, and qualifies for the NC State Renewable Tax Credit. You may also consider NC GreenPower, a way to buy renewable energy on your utility bill.

Who are the Solarize Orange County installers?

Our Solarize review committee selected a team of two installers because of their superior workmanship, excellent customer service, dependable warranty, enthusiastic references, affordable pricing, and overall value.

Southern Energy Management (SEM) is a Morrisville-based company specializing in solar-energy systems and efficiency services for homes and businesses. SEM has installed hundreds of rooftop solar systems for home and business owners across the Carolinas. SEM has been in business for 13 years and are 7 time winners of the EPA Energy Star Partner of the Year.

Yes! Solar Solutions is a full service residential and commercial solar design and installation company, located in Cary, NC. Yes! Solar Solutions had installed over 200 solar projects since they started the company in 2009. Yes! Solar Solutions is the only nationally NABCEP accredited company on the east coast and only the third company that has achieved this accreditation in the US.

How can Solarize Orange County offer a group discount? Where do the savings come from?

Since panel prices have declined so significantly, other "soft costs" make up an increasingly large portion of the installation price. These "soft costs" include marketing, customer service, and managing the permits and interconnect process. Our Solarize program lowers marketing costs through organizing neighborhoods and conducting community outreach. By educating consumers on solar options, Solarize participants more clearly understand their solar installation, reducing iterations in the design phase. And by installing multiple houses in neighborhoods, the installer can reduce transport costs, and by having a known number of planned projects, the installer can better manage group purchases from suppliers.

To score even larger group discounts, Solarize Orange County is a constellation of four Solarize campaigns in parallel -- Solarize Chapel Hill, Solarize Hillsborough, Solarize Carrboro, and Solarize Orange County. Anyone in Orange County can participate.

What is the amount of the Solarize discount?

Compared to an industry average residential installation cost of $4.75 per watt, Solarize participants will enjoy base discounts starting at least 15% for a typical home.

As more people join the program, the discounts increase. We call this tiered pricing. The program starts with Tier 1 prices. The second price tier is achieved after the program exceeds 15 kW installed, or about 4 homes. Also, your price per watt goes down if you select a larger installation. Of course, the tax credits make solar even more affordable.

Can you explain the tax credits?

A tax credit is even better than a tax deduction. You don’t just subtract it from your income – you subtract it from the amount of taxes you owe. Every dollar of tax credit is a dollar you don’t pay in taxes.

The North Carolina solar tax credit can pay you back 35% of the installed cost of your system. If necessary, you can take the state credit over 5 years but the credit you take in any one year cannot exceed 50% of your tax bill. Because many people deduct state taxes from their federal taxable income, taking this credit may increase your federal taxes.

The federal solar tax credit can pay back 30% of the installed cost of your system. If necessary, you can take the federal credit over 2 years.

These tax credits will be in effect at least through Dec. 31, 2015 (NC) and Dec. 31, 2016 (federal). As long as your system is installed before the expiration date, you can continue using up the credits in subsequent years.

Also, if you finance your solar installation with a secured loan, you may be able to deduct your interest payments from your taxable income.

You will claim the tax credits when you file your taxes, but you may be able to receive some of the benefit right away by having your employer reduce the amount of tax withheld from your paycheck based on your new estimate of how much tax you will owe.

Reminder: Individual circumstances vary and not everyone is able to take full advantage of the tax credits. Please consult a tax professional to learn if the state and federal solar tax credits apply in your situation.

Can I finance my installation?

Our financing partners have custom-designed renewable energy loans. You don't have to wait to save up. You can go solar now. Admiral's Bank offers custom-fit solar loans to help you get to a low monthly payment. Self Help Credit Union can provide both solar loans as well as personal loans for energy efficiency. The contact person at Self Help Credit Union is Steve Reardon, phone: (919) 956-4669, email: Finally, many use a home equity line of credit; check with your mortgage holder if this is an option for you.

How do I sell my electricity back to the utility?

Utility customers can choose whether they want to sell their solar power to the utility using net metering or a sell-all option (see next two paragraphs below). Which option is best for you will depend on the size of the system you install, the amount of energy it is likely to produce, and how much energy you already use. Our installer partners will help you decide which option makes the most sense for your situation.

The first is net metering. When you install solar panels, your electric meter will be replaced. Your new meter will measure both the electricity you are purchasing from your utility and the electricity you are sending to the grid. The utility tracks both of these when it reads your meter, and you are charged only for your “net” energy use – the electricity you purchased minus what your solar system created. Any excess energy created in a month is credited to the customer’s next monthly bill at their full kWh rate. However, all excess energy the customer has been credited does get zeroed out once a year, at the beginning of the summer billing season. This system of “net metering” is required of both Duke Energy and Duke Energy Progress by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Your second option is selling all the electricity to your utility. Under the sell-all option, the consumer still buys electricity from the utility company, but generates electricity with their own system. The utility purchases all of the power produced by the customer’s solar system, which goes out to the grid for distribution, and pays the customer a contracted rate for the energy. The rate that the customer can receive from the utility for their solar power is subject to many variables including the size of the solar system, the length of the contract, and the time of day the electricity is produced. The sell-all option gives customers the opportunity to take advantage of the NC GreenPower program, which pays solar system owners an additional incentive for the energy generated by their solar system on top of what they are paid by the utility. The current NC GreenPower incentive for a residential solar system smaller than 5 kW is 6 cents per kWh, which is additional to the price paid by the utility. If you have low electricity demand but your home site has good solar availability, this may be the better option.

The Solarize installer will help you compare these options for your site.

When can I expect my installation to be completed?

The first Solarize Orange County installations are scheduled for January 2015. An installation project for a typical home takes less than a week.

There are two reasons installations are starting in January. First, we can deliver deeper discounts as more people join because the installation costs are lower if a group of neighbors are getting their installation at the same time. This saves on transportation expenses and greenhouse gas emissions. But it also means that some people will experience a delay as we work through other neighborhoods before getting to yours. Second, winter is the slow season for solar installations. Putting installation crews to work in the winter, rather than running double shifts in the summer and fall, lowers costs and increases the savings for everyone participating in the program.

Will solar panels impact the value of my home?

Imagine two identical homes next to one another, one with solar and one without. It is not hard to imagine that the house with solar would sell for more because it costs less to operate. An article in the New York Times describes a California study that found the premium paid for homes with solar power was roughly $5.50/watt, or about $17,000 (which was roughly the installation price of the panels, at the time) and solar homes spent less time on the market (complete study here). Although the experience of the California market may not apply exactly to North Carolina, it does seem likely that the solar panels will add to a home’s value. Fortunately, in accordance with North Carolina property tax law, solar panel installations do not increase your property assessment value, so your property taxes will not increase.

Where can I go for more info?

Check out the NC Clean Tech Center's Residential Customer’s Guide to Going Solar: Duke Energy Carolinas version. The guides include a detailed analysis of the monthly and long-term utility bill savings that each option provides to the typical homeowner, using data specific to North Carolina cities. This allows customers to get an idea of how much a solar system costs in their particular region after all available incentives are factored in, as well as what kind of utility bill savings a typical PV owner in their area sees.

Sounds great, but I don't live in Orange County. Is there a Solarize program where I live?

Check out NC WARN's Solarize Chatham and Solarize Charlotte by Cleaner is Cheaper. A program also is underway Raleigh named Clean Energy for Raleigh. If your home isn't in one of these locations, send me an email or leave a comment in the comment area below and we'll work to connect you to a program when it is available.

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