Growing up in Maine, Tim made use of solar panels long before they became a popular method for producing electricity.
“I grew up on an island with no electricity. Back then, my Dad bought 70-watt panels for I think $1,800 each. So I’ve been interested in alternative energy for a while. I like the idea that we, as people, should be responsible for producing at least a portion of the energy we use.”
Years later, Tim wanted to install solar panels on his home in Rhode Island. He planned to purchase, install and maintain the solar panels on his own.
“I consider myself a pretty handy guy. I’ve installed a few solar panel systems in the past, so I always thought that I’d install my own panels independently without a contractor. My plan was to hire a licensed electrician to inspect it, sign off and push the paperwork through.”
He drew up a plan so that his solar panels would produce enough energy for him to live off.
“Having only a portion of my electric bill reduced was never appealing to me. If I was going to do this project, I wanted the whole thing gone. I took my annual electric usage and divided it by twelve months, and it came out to roughly 800 kW. So I needed to install enough solar panels to produce as close to 800 kW as possible.”
His plans for going solar run into a wall
While preparing a layout for his panels, Tim found that his house wasn’t situated perfectly for solar production.
“I have a unique situation. My roof is positioned at an east-west orientation, so putting panels on there would not be as effective as I wanted. Not to mention I wouldn’t be able to get half as much of the required output that I needed (800 kW).”
He started looking at different options, but ran into more problems.
“The next option was to install panels on a ground-mount. But there was a whole separate problem: my house is surrounded by tall trees. By using a ground-mount, I wouldn’t get to utilize the sun until it rose over the trees. That means less time to produce energy, and more panels I would need to reach my production goals.”
After crunching the numbers, he found that this project would cost him a lot of time and money.
“It became apparent that this was not a backyard, petty cash project. There was a large expenditure of money required. Plus, the mountain of paperwork sent my plan off the rails. As a layman (someone who’s not a lawyer or accountant) it was too much to ask. I became depressed about the whole thing. I knew what I wanted, I knew how to build it, but I couldn’t find a way to get it all done.”
Getting a referral from a trusted friend
Tim nearly gave up on his plans for going solar, then he saw a friend getting panels installed on his roof.
“I was going to my friend’s house for a party, who, quite frankly, is not a typical embracing-the-planet, liberal-leaning guy. This guy is the opposite of all of that. Somehow, when I drove by his house, I saw people putting solar panels on his roof. I was like, ‘Oh my god!’”
He asked about the company his friend was working with to install the panels…
“I asked him, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the solar panels?’ He proceeded to tell me about the Feed-in-Tariff program (which I was not familiar with at all). He was working with Mike Goulart at Rhode Island Solar Solutions and everything was going well. It all sounded appealing, but I wasn’t totally convinced.”
Tim wanted to see the proof in the pudding.
“I’m a numbers guy, and the figures my friend gave didn’t make any sense. I was like, ‘He can’t be right about this.’ I know him very well. He’s a lifelong military person and not the type to exaggerate. But how was he giving me such good numbers for this project? It all sounded too good to be true.”
Tims finds a new solution for installing solar on his property
At his friend’s recommendation, Tim decided to set up a consultation with Mike Goulart at Rhode Island Solar Solutions (RISS).
“When Mike showed up at my house, I told him I was looking for a profitable long-term investment and I wanted to see the numbers that would prove it.”
They dug into the problems with Tim’s property, but decided to try something new.
“We first talked about installing a ground-mount system. But Mike also saw the same problem: I have all of these tall trees around me. He said, “You know what? Your property might be a good candidate for a solar tracker.’ I’d researched trackers before and thought they were really cool technology. But I thought I’d need funding from NASA to finance it. My pockets weren’t that deep.”
After struggling to find a way to install solar panels on his property, Tim finally finds a solution to his unique problem.
“Mike explained that since I’d produce so much more power with a tracker system, I could also reduce the amount of panels and other equipment. With a ground-mount, I would’ve needed about 36 panels to reach my goal of 800 kW. But with a tracker, I’d only need 24 panels to produce the same amount of electricity. I couldn’t believe a tracker was that cost effective. That changed everything for me.”
Tim saw the potential for a smart, long-term investment.
“I started breaking down the numbers and I realized that by paying RISS to install, I would make back my upfront investment twice as fast than doing the project myself.”
Before he decided to move forwarded, he needed to be sure of the numbers.
“I took my total usage per month and divided it by how much I paid. It came out to about 18.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Working with RISS, I was able to capture a Feed-in-Tariff rate which pays me 37.65 cents for every kilowatt hour I produce. You don’t have to be a mathematician to understand that’s great, especially if you have all the panels you need to cover your monthly usage. As soon as I saw that, I had no problem saying, ‘Okay, this is the way I need to go.’”
Partnering with a local solar company
Tim decided to partner with Rhode Island Solar Solutions and install a tracking system in his backyard. The project had a few bumps in the road, but RISS showed him quality service.
“When they were installing my system, they found that the original quote for the project had missed a factor. There was a trench that had to be dug for the conduit and wires, which added nearly $2,000 to the total. RISS said, ‘Look, since we already gave you a price, we’re going to eat the extra cost of digging the trench so you can be a happy customer.’ That’s exactly what happened. They wanted to do right by me, and I’m eternally grateful for that.”
Due to getting installed at the end of the year, Tim worried about securing his tax credit for purchasing solar.
“Because I was laying out $34,000, it was really important that I got the system installed and signed off by the end of the year. That way I could receive 30 percent of cost back from the federal government (through the solar tax credit program), which would be over $10,000. Rhode Island Solar Solutions did a great job doing what was needed so that I could file my taxes on time and get the rebate. That was a big bonus for me.”
Tim saw the value of investing in a local company who takes care of its customers.
“The experience with Mike Goulart was brilliant. He didn’t get burdened by my numerous technical questions. If he didn’t know the answer, he’d call the person who knew the answer. But the biggest thing is how Mike and the RISS team has responded to issues during the process. You call with a concern, and they go to work for you immediately. I respect that. Whenever something came up, they took care of it.”
Now Tim sees phenomenal returns from his solar investment
Tim immediately saw the financial benefits after installing his solar tracker.
Before having solar, I paid between $120 to $150 a month for electricity. Since I’ve had my tracker installed, which is going on nine months now, I’ve made back between $189 (low) and $368 (high) per month. What that means: not only do I have cash deposited in my checking account, but I’ve also eliminated my bill.”
Being a numbers guy, he’s excited to see very positive figures and a return on his investment.
“The project was a $34,000 expenditure in total, O.K.? I got over $10,500 back (as a tax credit) as soon as I did my taxes, which was right after the system came online. Now we’re down to about $23,000 that I owe. Between the money I save by not having an electric bill, and the cash deposited into my account for the excess energy I produce, this system will easily pay for itself in five to six years. That’s phenomenal for me.”
For Tim, the benefits of going solar are numerous.
“There are so many benefits with solar energy. If you want to help the planet, it’ll do that. Want to protect yourself from rising rates? It’ll do that. Make a profit? It’ll do that, too. If you do the math, the numbers are there. I’m projecting to make an additional $34-36,000 in profit over the next 15 years. And after that, I can renew my agreements or switch over to net metering and live the rest of my life without a utility bill.”
He says that going solar today is smart decision, but it’s important to work with the right people.
“Solar is really a no-brainer. Anybody that can afford to put money down on a system should definitely do it, especially when the incentives are as good as they are now. These deals usually don’t last that long. Be aware that it’s a process–there are many moving parts to getting a system installed (especially when you purchase it). That’s why you should invest with a company that will take care of you. I’m certainly living proof of that because of how well Rhode Island Solar Solutions has taken care of me.”