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Questions for Business Owners to Ask When Considering Solar

2012 June 19

Business owners who implement commercial solar systems know that solar electricity is a smart long-term investment that provides decades of clean, renewable electricity. They also know that solar electricity provides solid financial returns for system owners and investors.  As with any large capital investment, it is important to gather research about your specific project needs and ask the right questions.  

At Namasté Solar, we want your commercial solar project to be a smooth and successful one.  The following key questions will help screen your commercial solar integrator and provide guidance as you make your decision.

 

 

 

  • What are the benefits of going solar?  How do I prioritize the benefits for my company? 
  • Can I save money on my electricity bill immediately or in the near future? 
  • How much will my solar array impact my utility bill?  How much electricity can it generate versus what is supplied by the utilities company? 
  • How long will it take for my solar system to begin paying for itself? 
  • Do I have enough roof space or ground space for an array? 
  • What are my financing options for going solar? 
  • What should I be looking for in a good solar integrator?
  • How long will it take to complete my solar project? 
  • What upkeep is needed for my system once the project is completed?

Every commercial solar project is unique and the answers to these and other important questions can be different for each business owner.  For instance, you may have your own money to invest in the project, you may secure a loan from your bank, or there may be a Power Purchase Agreement available to you. Prioritizing economic gains, financing options, environmental impacts, educational contributions, public relations opportunities, and more will help you make a smart long-term investment.

Namasté Solar is a trusted solar partner, with over 1,700 systems installed throughout Colorado and beyond.    With our suite of services and experienced professionals, we are here to help you make the right decision. Call us today to move your solar project forward: 303-447-0300 x102, or visit www.NamasteSolar.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Your Company Need a Solar Feasibility Study?

2012 June 5

When your business begins to consider solar power to generate its electricity needs, we highly recommend conducting a Commercial Solar Feasibility Study.  A feasibility study is a comprehensive review of the major components of installing a solar electric system and helps determine if solar is a good investment for your business.  The study will also illustrate the unique environmental benefits that will be gained. 
 
The first part of the study determines the optimal size and location for the solar electric system.  Namasté Solar starts by reviewing your company’s electrical usage to determine an appropriate system size.  Next, we evaluate both roof-mounted and ground-mounted options for your property.  During this stage, we work hand-in-hand with your facilities manager to better understand the unique characteristics of your site, future growth plans, roof ages, and electrical infrastructure.  Next, we review the technical aspects of interconnecting the photovoltaic (PV) system to the existing electrical system and requirements of the local utility. 

Lastly, we perform a comprehensive analysis of the financial investment in solar.  This analysis takes into account the current cost of electricity, utility incentives, local, state and/or federal incentives, financing options, and the estimated capital investment required. 

Investing in a solar feasibility study upfront ensures that your business invests in the most appropriate technology solution and avoids costly mistakes.  If your company decides to move forward with solar, the study cost will be credited toward the construction of your project.

For a business going solar, a feasibility study is the best way to identify the opportunities and challenges you would face with a solar electric project.  Please contact us for more information about Commercial Feasibility Studies at 303.447.0300 or NamasteSolar.com.

Care of the Community: Reflecting on our 2010 Solar Grant Program

2011 November 22
by Amanda Bybee

Namasté Solar’s unique business model includes employee ownership, democratic decision-making, open communication, corporate giving, zero-waste initiatives, and holistic profit measurement. Committed to positive social change, Namasté Solar prioritizes “doing the right thing” above all else for all stakeholders.

At Namasté Solar, one of our core values is “Care of our Community” – to be a good neighbor and actively engage in making our community a better place.  We take this commitment very seriously.  Each year, we allocate 20% of company profit to our innovative Corporate Giving Plan, which includes solar grants, cash sponsorships, and in-kind donations.  Since 2005, over 150KW of solar PV systems have been donated to community organizations.  In this way, Namasté Solar gives long-term, energy self-sufficiency to these organizations.  These donated solar electric systems not only save utility costs year after year, but they also reduce overall dependence on natural fuels and protect the environment for future generations.

One of our 2010 solar grant awardees is the WOW! Children’s Museum which recently received a 4.32kW solar array and an educational solar fountain display.  Lisa Attallah, Executive Director at WOW! stated:

“WOW! Children’s Museum strives to provide excellent services to the children, families and schools of Colorado, at affordable costs to all. This has been challenging, as our operating costs have escalated annually. Thanks to the Namasté Solar grant program, our Museum was able to install solar panels on our roof to help reduce our ongoing energy costs.   In an effort to educate our visitors, we were also included an information station about the benefits of solar technology and an interactive solar water fountain exhibit in our outdoor garden.  We could not have done any of these valuable projects without the Namasté Solar grant program.”

Nonprofit organizations may apply for the Solar Grant through a grant application form, which is available online.  This application provides details about the organization’s desire for a solar system, the building’s location and utility, and the agency’s financial health.  If an organization meets the basic application requirements, they continue on to finalist status.   The next step is for a sales and design specialist to perform a site evaluation to determine the viability of a solar system installation.  After this visit, they will craft a preliminary system design and quote.  This data will be reviewed by the Solar Grant Committee for each finalist organization.  Lastly, this Committee will decide upon that year’s solar grant awardees and make its final determinations regarding amount allocations.   The Solar Grant Program is awarded at three tiers: Tier 1 at $10,000; Tier 2 at $20,000; and Tier 3 at $30,000.  Each organization has full flexibility in choosing the solar PV system size and whether to provide matching funds to this effort.    

We have been honored to serve our 2010 Solar Grant Awardees:

  • The Nature Place
  • Heritage High School
  • Mile High Youth Corps
  • Pioneer Elementary School
  • Project Angel Heart
  • WOW! Children’s Museum

 “Our Solar Grant program is very special to us because it demonstrates that small businesses can give back to their communities and still achieve conventional, financial success. We hope to inspire business of all types to be engaged community partners. As Margaret Mead said so eloquently… “A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” said Heather Leanne Nangle, Co-owner and Director of Marketing, Communications, and Social Responsibilty.

Please tell your favorite nonprofit about our Solar Grant program!  Full details are available by visiting NamasteSolar.com and clicking on Social Responsibility and then Corporate Giving.

What will come of Solar*Rewards for Boulder residents now that 2b/2c has passed?

2011 November 2
by Jason Wiener

Boulder’s City Attorney, Thomas Carr, responds recently to City Council Member Crystal Gray about a resident’s concerns that Xcel can exclude Boulder residents from Solar*Rewards (past applications and future).  To learn more about what will come of Solar*Rewards for Boulder residents now that 2b/2c has passed, read the following correspondence. 

Boulder Council Hotline - 

Question regarding Xcel’s press release to Thomas Carr from City Council Member Crystal Gray:

At our Oct. 18 Council meeting a resident brought up the issue of Xcel’s recent press release in which Jerome David, Xcel spokesperson, said “Voters should be aware that measures 2B and 2C do not open, but instead, close options for the city,” said Davis. “And it is misleading to say there are no adverse consequences if 2B and 2C are approved. For example, during the five or more years it will take to form the utility, we may have no choice but to discontinue, in Boulder, our Solar*Rewards, SaversSwitch, energy efficiency and conservation programs, as well as our proposed new long-term WindsourceÒ program. ”

It is my understanding that Xcel cannot discriminate against Boulder based on our geographical location nor can they discriminate against any other of their customer bases.  Has something changed at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to change this?  Can you please give council an analysis on this statement from Xcel since I find it inconsistent with PUC policy.

Also, regarding Xcel’s new Windsource program it is interesting that the price they will pay for their new wind is lower than the price they will pay for coal generated electricity but they will still charge their Windsource customers (of which I subscribe) an additional premium that exceeds the charge for coal based electricity.  Can you please ask your Xcel counterparts why they charge their windsource customers a higher charge then what the wind actually costs?  Should we go to the PUC to discuss this as well as the other question I have raised?

Response from Boulder’s City Attorney, Thomas Carr to City Council Member Crystal Gray:

… I believe that Mr. Davis’ comments reflect the pressures of a campaign rather than reasoned policy.  If you read carefully you will note that he says only that they “may have no choice.”  The simple fact is that state law prohibits rate discrimination.  §40-3-102, C.R.S.  The power of the PUC to regulate rates extends beyond just discrimination to reasonableness.  Consumers League v. Colorado S. Railway Co., 53 Colo. 54, 125 P. 577 (1912).  Whatever the outcome of the election, Boulder residents and businesses will continue to be Xcel Energy customers for some period of time.  Xcel would have a tough time demonstrating that it is reasonable to discriminate against its Boulder customers.

Mr. Davis mentions three programs, Saver’s Switch, SolarRewards and Windsource. Windsource allow for customers to cancel with 30-days notice; Saver’s Switch allows cancellation at any time.  Xcel has told the PUC that both programs are available to all Colorado residential customers.

Saver’s Switch is a demand response product that offers residential participants a $40 annual bill credit as an incentive for allowing Xcel to control their air conditioners on days when the system is stressed. It is usually used on hot summer days when demand is expected to reach near-peak capacity.  Prior to 2009, Xcel set a goal to have 13,000 new Saver’s Switch customers each year. For 2009 through 2013, they have promised to have 19,500 new switches. The increase was a result of the Fort St. Vrain Decision No. C08-0369 in Docket No. 07A-469E.  In that proceeding, the Commission ordered Public Service to expand its demand response efforts to meet a resource need.

Even if state law allowed Xcel to discriminate against customers, it would seem unwise to deny access to a program with high participation targets to a community that participates in disproportionately high numbers in Xcel’s demand reduction and alternative energy programs.

On June 24, 2011, Xcel filed a verified petition with the PUC seeking to reduce the price of its Windsource program in anticipation of bringing their Limon II wind farm on line.  The city had intended to monitor this proceeding, but not to participate, because we generally do not object to rate reductions.  Moreover, the verified petition provided that: “[t]he Windsource standard program will be available to all Public Service retail customers.”  The deadline for intervention is November 13, 2011.  Staff plans currently to monitor the docket and await the election results.  If 2b and 2c pass, the City will intervene to protect the right of Boulder customers to participate in Windsource.

SolarRewards is a rebate program for Xcel customers who install on-site solar energy systems.  It also has a disproportionate number of Boulder participants.  The City anticipates that it will need to work with Xcel on a fair system to protect SolarRewards customers from any adverse impact arising from municipalization.  There is no difference between new customers and existing customers from this prospective.  Again, there is no reason for Xcel to discriminate against Boulder customers.

Strengthen the Bargaining Position with Xcel

2011 October 13

Regarding Boulder’s energy future and ballot initiatives 2B and 2C, I encourage us to consider the question, “After the vote in November, what’s the next step?”

If we vote “yes” on 2B and 2C, the next step will be to further evaluate the option of creating our own municipal utility. If this option is determined to be financially practical and passes the city’s tests — same or lower rates than Xcel Energy, same or better reliability, an additional 25 percent cushion for making debt payments, and a plan for more renewable energy — then the city can proceed down that path. If this option does not pass all of those tests, then the city would not be able to proceed with municipalization without making changes or getting voter approval.

On the other hand, what happens if we vote “no” on 2B and 2C? We would need to resume negotiations with Xcel for another 20-year franchise agreement. But without other options, how strong would our negotiating position be? Would we really be able to get Xcel to provide a plan that meets the city’s goals? Unfortunately, Xcel’s track record indicates otherwise. In the franchise agreement negotiations between the city and Xcel prior to November 2010, Xcel repeatedly failed to present a plan that helped address the City’s goals, despite continual requests from the city. Xcel is a regulated monopoly and is less accustomed to competing for its customers.

Only when voters passed last year’s 2B ballot initiative (by a resounding 2-to-1 margin) did Xcel finally get the message that it needed to try harder to win us as a long-term customer. So, based on the positive outcome that resulted from passing last year’s 2B, how would voting “no” on this year’s 2B and 2C help us negotiate better terms with Xcel? I’ve concluded that it won’t, and instead, voting “no” would severely weaken our negotiating position.

As a local business owner and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, I was disappointed to see the chamber come out against 2B and 2C. Boulder is negotiating with a monopoly vendor for the annual purchase of over $100 million of electricity services, and its a good business practice to keep this option on the table to strengthen our bargaining position.

Even from the perspective of wanting the city to sign another 20-year agreement with Xcel, voting “yes” for 2B and 2C will increase the chances that we get a win-win deal from Xcel. Let’s keep our options open by passing 2B and 2C.

How Does the Solar Lease Work? Q&A with Dan Yechout, Residential Sales Director with Namasté Solar

2011 September 15

Q: Dan, how does the solar lease work?

A: Let me begin with how solar worked before the time of leasing.  Prior to solar leasing options, if a homeowner wanted solar panels they would purchase all the equipment and have it installed on their home. Normally, the installation company has a warranty for the workmanship and the solar panels and other components have their own product warranties.

Typically, there is a 10-year workmanship warranty for the installation, the components have a 10-year product warranty and the solar panels would have a 25-year performance warranty

Q: So, how does leasing a system change things for homeowners?

A:   The leasing company owns and operates the system and is responsible for all the cost associated with the system for a 20-year term.  The homeowner no longer has to worry about the equipment and is only responsible for the cost of the solar power service.  Our leasing partner at Namasté Solar is SunRun.  Namaste Solar designs and installs the system.  SunRun owns the system and leases it to the homeowner.  With a lease, the homeowner is buying solar power, which is what they really want, rather than solar equipment.

Q: How does a homeowner know if there is a problem with the system?

A: SunRun monitors the performance of the system and will know if there is a problem.  If there is a problem they will contact us and we will set up a service call by the Namaste Solar Service Team.

Q: How does a customer pay for solar power service?

A: The homeowner can choose how they’d like to pay for the solar power service, they can pay little or no money up front, and pay a monthly bill for the solar.  This is like replacing their utility bill, but the advantage is that the solar bill is at a fixed, known rate for 20 years.  They are no longer subject to rising and unpredictable utility rates.   Or they can pre-pay for the 20 years of solar power at a discount price and never have another electric bill.

Q: What happens after 20 years?

A: After 20 years the homeowner has three options:

  1. Renew the lease on the system at a monthly rate that is guaranteed to be less than price of the utility power at that time
  2. Purchase the system at fair market value
  3. Have the system removed free of charge

 Q: How rapidly is the technology for solar changing? Will a homeowner miss out if they get into a 20 year leasing situation?

A: It’s more likely they will miss out if they wait to go solar.  Utility rates continue rise and solar leasing allows the homeowner to take control of their electricity costs today.  Solar panel efficiency is increasing at a rate of 2% per year, which means you’ll be able to get a little more power on your roof ten years from now, but at the expense of ten years of utility bills.  Most of the research is going into driving down the cost of solar panels.  Currently there are local and federal incentive programs to reduce the cost of solar leases, and these incentives are on a schedule to decline as solar component prices decline.  The end result is that the price of solar leases will be relatively consistent for the next several years.

Q: What can a homeowner expect to save on his/her power bill?

A: It depends on the home and electricity usage.  If the homeowner has a solar friendly house and uses more than $80 of electricity each month, then they can go solar for free and save money from day one.

Q: Does a homeowner still benefit from local and federal incentive for solar if they go the leasing route?

A: Yes.  If a homeowner purchases the solar equipment then he/she will receive those incentives directly.  If the homeowner leases the solar power system, then the leasing company takes the incentives and creates an even better deal than the homeowner can get purchasing equipment.

Q: How does a homeowner benefit from solar panels during the winter, snowy months?

A: The solar panels will not work when there is snow on them.  During those times, the homeowner will be buying power from local utility.  The homeowner is guaranteed a certain amount of solar electricity production every year as part of the lease.  If the system fails to meet the guarantee, SunRun pays the homeowner for the shortfall.

Q: How many solar homes are there in Colorado?

A:  There are 8,000 homes that are within Xcel Energy electric territory and have had solar systems installed since 2006 as part of the Solar*Rewards program.  Then you can add in the solar homes in other utilities and off grid, which totals a few thousand more.

Q: How does a homeowner benefit from choosing Namasté Solar as their installation company?

A:   We have been Colorado’s leading solar company since 2006 because of the outstanding customer service we provide.  We custom design every system to meet the customer’s needs, using only the highest quality components.  We are 100% employee-owned, which means every employee of the company has a vested interest in the success of each customer’s project.  We are a licensed Colorado electrical contractor with 21 NABCEP-certified solar PV installers, and all our work is done by our in-house crews.

Book Recommendations From Namaste Solar’s Internal Book Club

2011 July 1
by Amanda Bybee

Namaste Solar has an internal “book club” where we regularly read books and articles about other, like-minded companies.  We’ve benefited so much from reading about these wonderful companies that we wanted to share our past reading list in the hopes that these stories might provide valuable inspiration and ideas for others as well.

  • The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack
  • A Stake in the Outcome, by Jack Stack
  • Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham
  • Maverick, by Ricardo Semler
  • The Company We Keep, by John Abrams
  • No Man’s Land, by Doug Tatum
  • Raising the Bar – the Story of Clifbar, by Gary Ericson
  • Bread and Butter, by Tom McMakin
  • The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge

 Enjoy reading!

The Public Utilities Commission Suspended Xcel Energy’s Proposed Solar Penalty

2011 June 1
by Jason Wiener

After receiving a strong letter of opposition from the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) and 440 public comments of protest the PUC suspended the implementation of the proposed charge and set the matter for hearing and a thorough review (docket 11AL-080E). In its ruling the Commission stated that Xcel’s proposed “terms and rates contained in the tariff may be improper.” COSEIA will intervene in the docket and will work with you to communicate future public hearings as they are scheduled.

Namaste Solar believes the PUC’s actions signal its renewed commitment to fair process, protection of existing and future solar customers and rate payers, and independent fact-finding.  We hope the PUC will continue to assume its role as a counterweight to the regulated utility as it carries out the spirit of Amendment 37, SB-051 and HB-1001.

Update on Xcel Energy’s Proposed “Fair Share” Charge

2011 May 16
by Jason Wiener

Dear Solar Customers,

Here is an update on Xcel Energy’s proposed “Fair Share” Charge for net-metered customers. You most likely have received a letter from Xcel Energy in the last week or so with information regarding this proposed flat monthly charge:

  • $1.03 for systems 0.5kW – 5 kW
  • $2.05 for systems 5.01kW – 10kW
  • $4.11 for systems larger than 10kW

 Below you will find links to some of the recent news stories for additional context:

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/going-green/27796810/detail.html

http://www.cleanenergyauthority.com/solar-energy-news/solar-owners-in-colorado-upset-over-fee-050911/

In short, Xcel Energy is planning to assess this fee on net-metered customers based upon the premise that you, as a net-metered customer, are no longer paying your “fair share” into the 2% Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment (RESA) since your load is being offset by onsite solar production. While this fee is nominal, Namasté Solar contends that this fee is absurd since solar customers pay their “fair share” by investing in a solar system for their own home or business.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) still needs to approve the Xcel Energy proposed charge. If you feel inclined, I encourage you to contact the PUC, Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), and your local legislators to let them know this fee is inappropriate. Here is the respective contact info:

PUC: http://www.dora.state.co.us/puc/consumer/CommentComplaintIndex.htm

GEO: http://rechargecolorado.com/index.php/contact_us/

Legislators: http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2011A/csl.nsf/directory?openframeset

Thanks for your help in expanding the use of solar energy!

Namasté Solar Relieved to See the Solar*Rewards Program Resume

2011 March 19
by Jason Wiener

After rigorous 10-party negotiations, the solar industry has reached agreement with Xcel Energy on a stop-gap measure that is intended to carry the market through the next 12-13 months, until the 2012 RES Compliance Plan is in place.  While not a perfect outcome for any party, we believe the settlement achieves the industry’s highest priorities: immediate restart of the Solar*Rewards program, predictable and stable near-term market outlook, declining tiered incentives, and a cash-flow friendly incentive structure. 

Namasté Solar believes that while the settlement agreement provides short-term program clarity, the industry will need to continue developing longer-term solutions to enhance market predictability and stability through continued COSEIA engagement. This includes transitioning the administration of the Solar*Rewards program to an independent, third-party administrator that can truly be held accountable and will be expressly charged with upholding the public interests expressed in Amendment 37.

As a strong industry advocate, Namasté Solar is pleased with COSEIA’s involvement in the settlement negotiations and the results achieved.  We were thrilled to see COSEIA leap into action and work so collaboratively and constructively with its industry association partner, Solar Alliance.  Never has COSEIA’s strength and value been more apparent.  We were pleased and honored to support COSEIA in the settlement negotiations process – both myself, as a current Member of COSEIA’s Board of Directors, and Eriks Brolis, recent President of COSEIA.

The main points of the agreement reached between COSEIA/Solar Alliance and Xcel Energy include:

  •  For small customer-owned systems: $1.75/watt up-front incentive plus a four-cent per kWh performance-based incentive (paid over 10-years);
  • For small third-party owned systems: 16 cent per kWh performance-based incentive (paid over 20-years); and
  • For mid-sized systems: 15 cent per kWh performance-based incentive (paid over 20-years).
  • 60 MW of additional capacity over the next year, until their 2012 RES Compliance Plan is implemented, as opposed to the 10 MW originally planned by Xcel Energy. 
  • As before, incentives will ratchet down over time, based on capacity installed. The small, customer-owned program will incrementally phase out up-front incentives and phase in performance-based incentives paid out over a 10-year period.  Third-party owned and mid-sized programs will move immediately to a performance-based incentive, paid over a 20-year period. 
  • Program to resume in March as opposed to May.
  • Language prohibiting Xcel Energy from taking unilateral action without PUC approval.

To see more details on the incentive steps and the settlement agreement check out the COSEIA website.

Best regards,

Jason