Photo by Jeremy Levine Designs
Welcome guest poster, Mark Yarbough, providing sage advice about picking the right company if you decide to install solar on your buildings. He is a member of the City Council of Perris, California. He is also the owner of a Volvo repair shop. His city went solar two years ago and won two major national awards from the League of California Cities and the American Planning Association for their solar efforts.
This is Part I of Mark’s article regarding installing solar.
The time for solar happy talk is over.
Now we have to make it happen. And that is as easy — or as hard — as we make it.
As a city councilman in Perris, California, as well as the owner of a Volvo repair shop, I went through all the stages of solar: denial, skepticism, acceptance, and then doing what turned out to be the most important of all: Choosing the right company to build the right solar system for our city facilities.
There was no shortage of suitors. Even today, a few years after we built our systems, the field has exploded with new companies. Sometimes it seems all it takes to be an expert on solar is a pickup and a powerpoint.
That can work for smaller jobs in the neighborhood. Maybe.a water heater or even a swimming pool.
But for bigger commercial and industrial jobs, you need to go bigger too: Bigger skill, bigger experience, bigger workforce, bigger maintenance, bigger expertise in rebates and finances, bigger customer service and bigger monitoring. And, of course, bigger references
Some are finding out the expensive way what I am talking about when they try and go big with small time operators.
In Ventura County, a large tomato grower decided to install solar power at his state of the art indoor growing facilities. Much like the school board in the movie Music Man, he chose the first smooth talkers to wander into town.
Of course they had experience, they said. Of course they had happy customers, they said. Of course they could send out invitations to the grand opening in just a few months — which was held last May.
After all, what could go wrong? A lot.
The construction on the 1.2 megawatt project stopped almost as soon as it began. The Music Man poured the concrete foundation and started building the support structure before getting permits from the County of Ventura.
The classic small-time mistake with the usual small time result: It took lots more money to fix the mistake than it would have taken to do it right the first time.
But still plans for the huge opening party went on. Would they be ready? Of course, of course.
The press releases went out proclaiming “The Future of Sustainable Agriculture.” And on May 14th, the guests arrived, including an ambassador and a California cabinet secretary. The local utility was there with a $1.2 million solar rebate.
News stories said all the luminaries were impressed, especially with the five aces of solar panels that would power this monument to sustainable agriculture. Camera crews were offered cranes so they could get better shots of the solar panels.
They had it all except for one thing: A passing grade on the county inspection of their new solar facilities.
Even temporary permission to energize their solar array for testing did not arrive for more than a month. And as of today, 11 months later to the day, the solar facility has still not passed a final electrical inspection.
The implications of this for insurance and rebates are enormous, as you might imagine.
One of the problems the facility had was with the trackers that allow the panels to follow the sun and boost energy output by as much as 20 percent. They were not working. Oops.
Without the trackers, the farm lost money by paying more for energy than it should have. And it also lost out on energy rebates, which are based on how much power the panels produce and can go down if deadlines are missed.
The farm owners blamed the county for not having the expertise to issue permits for solar. Today, 11 months after the opening, the solar system has still not passed inspection.
This is not an isolated incident. All over the country, otherwise smart business owners who would not buy a truck or hire a manager without checking reports and references, are buying a pig in a powerpoint poke; then wondering why their projects went bad.
In Perris, we got lucky. If, that is, by luck, you mean we took the time to find a solar company with real technicians, real equipment, real skill, real references, and real commitment to getting our job right.
As a result, our system is working even better than we hoped. And now I am in the final and best stage of solar: Loving it.