July 12, 2011

Solar energy customers can get $1,000 discount

TXU Energy and SolarCity are teaming up to offer a $1,000 discount for up to 5,000 new or current residential customers who want to install solar panels at their homes.

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TXU Energy and SolarCity are teaming up to offer a $1,000 discount for up to 5,000 new or current residential customers who want to install solar panels at their homes.

The $5 million program is immediately available in Dallas-Fort Worth, Irving-based TXU announced Tuesday.

TXU and SolarCity said their partnership "offers a full-service solution" that includes system design, equipment, installation, insurance, monitoring, warranty and a guaranteed amount of solar-power production.

Under the program, homeowners can either purchase the solar panels outright, or pay roughly half upfront and sign a 20-year lease with no costs beyond the initial payment and SolarCity retaining ownership.

With the $1,000 discount, a homeowner could pay about $6,000 upfront for a 3-kilowatt solar array under a 20-year lease with SolarCity, said Jonathan Bass, a spokesman for the San Mateo, Calif.-based company.

After that payment, "there's no monthly cost. ... It's one time and you're done," said Chip Deaver, TXU Energy director of product innovation.

If anything breaks on the solar array, SolarCity will "pay the full cost of the repairs," Deaver said.

Insurance will be provided at no cost, he said. In addition, SolarCity will provide a "performance guarantee" for the 20-year period, promising a specified level of power production from the panels.

If a homeowner purchases a 3-kilowatt solar array outright, taking full ownership of it, the gross cost of about $18,000 would be lowered to a net cost of about $11,500 after a 30 percent federal tax credit and the $1,000 discount, Bass said.

Cost savings on a monthly electric bill might be tens of dollars and potentially $100 or more, depending on the electric rate a homeowner is paying, the amount of electricity used, the size of the solar array installed and the amount of solar energy produced.

A solar array might typically cut monthly bills "somewhere around 30 percent," Deaver said.

"In addition to the savings that customers can see on their electric bills ... we pay for surplus power that is put back on the grid," he said.

SolarCity will first determine whether a home is a good candidate for solar power. For example, a south-facing home with no trees shading the roof would be much better than a heavily shaded home with a less-advantageous orientation.

The program is generally open to people in Dallas-Fort Worth who are in the deregulated electricity market.

"For now, we are focused on the area that is within driving distance of our operations center in Irving, an approximately 60-mile radius," Bass said. "Based on demand, we could expand further."

Customers who sign a 20-year lease will "have several options" after it expires, Bass said.

"They can have us remove the panels at no cost to them, can extend the lease in five-year increments ... or upgrade to new technology," Bass said in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram.

The expected life of a solar array is 30 to 40 years, he said.

The new TXU-SolarCity program is not dependent on rebates from Oncor Electric Delivery, the chief transmission and distribution system serving North Texas.

A previous TXU-SolarCity solar array leasing program, launched in February 2010, provided panels to about 200 customers before rebate money fizzled out.

About 5,000 other people who expressed interest in the earlier program will be contacted to see whether they want to participate in the new program, but there is no guarantee they will be accepted.

By making solar more affordable with the $1,000 discount, more homeowners can go solar, SolarCity Chief Executive Lyndon Rive said in a statement Tuesday.

"Our solar offer is the best in the Texas competitive marketplace, and as a full-service solar provider, we provide homeowners with unmatched service," he said.

Through the program, "we are making renewable energy even more affordable to our customers," TXU Energy Chief Executive Jim Burke said in a statement.

Jack Z. Smith,


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