What should I do before I sign a contract?
We recommend that you give our Solar Manager a call beforehand to take a look at your quotes, listen to your objectives, and give you individualized advice to help you best achieve those. Over the years we’ve seen some dissatisfied members who are now contractually obligated to pay for systems that don’t produce or work as promised. Because of this, we’ve learned some of the red flags to look for. We’ve also seen many members that are extremely happy with their systems. At WCEC, our only interest is helping to make sure that each member is satisfied with their decision to install solar. After the contract, it’s too late for us to help. 

After I’ve signed the contract, how long will WCEC’s application process take?
Once we receive your applications our Solar Manager can usually review it within 10 days. If additional information is required your process will be delayed. Each project is different, based on the location, type of system and the installer you have chosen, so we can’t give exact timelines. But your co-op will work hard to do our part to get you connected expediently. 

 Any installer should be able to fill out the applications easily and correctly for the member to submit. But please note, our interconnection relationship is with our member, and not with an installer. Therefore, all responsibilities rest with the member. It is also the member’s responsibility to insure an agreement is signed and approved by WCEC before interconnection to our facilities for the safety of all. Turning a system on without written approval and inspection from WCEC can result in meter tampering fees and disconnection of service. 

What is the cost to interconnect and is there a monthly fee?
There is no monthly fee to interconnect, but there is a one-time non-refundable application fee. This defrays the cost of the review of your system design by WCEC personnel, along with the manual inspection to insure safety standards are met. The fee is based on the size class of your system and is spelled out in our tariff, but it ranges from $50.00 to $500 plus engineering costs. Most systems interconnected with WCEC fall under Class I, which has the lowest fee. 

How long does it take for approval/permission to operate? 
Upon notification by you or your installer that your system construction is complete, WCEC will conduct an inspection. Usually this is done in about 7 business days. Timing depends on weather and workload. After inspection, if all is in accordance with WCEC’s interconnect agreement and safety procedures, the member will be given operating permission. Turning a system on without this written approval and inspection from WCEC can result in meter tampering fees and disconnection of service. 

Why must I give advance notice before operating my system?
Interconnected solar systems are power plants that have the potential to back feed high voltage energy onto our system. These systems run quietly and are not readily apparent. This can jeopardize the safety of line workers and have the potential to cause grave injury and even death. Once a system is officially interconnected, our records show our workers where these systems are, so they don’t unknowingly encounter a dangerous situation. Also, as power plants, these systems can also cause erratic and unstable electrical flow to impede service and/or damage our equipment and distribution system. This is one reason why Class II units must carry at least $1M worth of liability insurance.  

Will I require a new meter installation for my DG/solar system interconnection?
No. WCEC’s metering system reads both kWhs consumed and kWhs that are fed onto our system. Our system is sophisticated and sends alerts to us when reverse rotation is encountered. In this way we can detect if there has been an illegal interconnect prior to our approval.  

What are your rates per kWh for electricity purchased from members? The rates are subject to change and/or fluctuate at any time. WCEC considers many factors when setting rates, including market forces, the price the cooperative pays per kWh for energy from our Generation and Transmission sources, and also the price paid per kWh to utility scale solar. Because prices fluctuate, the current rate can be obtained from our Solar Manager. All kWh are paid based on the terms in our Member Policies and Schedules .  

Does WCEC pay the DG member the same amount per kWh that is charged to the member per kWh? No, for several reasons. WCEC pays avoided costs for the electricity it purchases from the member. The figure is derived from several factors including the wholesale market value of electricity, and the cost of our distribution plant. The rate the cooperative charges a member per kWh includes the cost of the purchased electricity, as well as WCEC’s overhead and facilities costs (our wires, meters, substations, and other hardware and overhead costs like trucks, fuel, people, and offices). For obvious reasons, we don’t pay the DG member for the cooperative’s services and equipment when we buy their electricity. We are just buying their commodity of kWhs, and paying them the fair market value.  

As a cooperative, our mission is to keep rates as affordable as possible. We have a promise to members to seek the best electricity rates we can for the power we serve them. Paying DG members one-to-one would not fit that model.  

How does WCEC pay DG members for the kWh they put onto WCEC’s grid?
Reverse rotation of the meter counts the number of kWhs a member sends to the grid. At the end of the billing cycle, the credits are net billed. This means the account receives monetary credit for the amount sent to the grid by the member’s solar unit, and the money owed to WCEC by the member is reduced by that amount. The customer owes WCEC the remainder.

What’s the best way for me to reduce costs with my solar unit?
For the best financial advantage, a member with grid-tied solar should try to use every single kWh their unit makes. That’s because for every kWh of solar they manufacture and use, they’re avoiding purchasing a kWh that costs more. Too, when a member sends electricity to our system, it is not “banked” for future use. If a member does wish to “bank” excess kWh they generate, they can purchase battery systems along with their system. 

Will I still receive a bill when I have grid tied solar?
Likely, yes. At the end of each billing cycle there will be a statement presented. In almost every case, your system will reduce – sometimes significantly – the amount owed to WCEC for the billing cycle since you will be avoiding buying some kWh from WCEC.  

However, the vast majority of cases, the kWh produced by your system will not eliminate or overcome all of the charges. That’s because solar systems do not produce power at night, and most meters will continue to use and purchase power at night. Each meter also has a monthly customer charge that pays for the facilities used to serve you from our distribution system.  

In rare instances, a meter can overcome the whole bill. An example would be if a large solar array is being used to power a tiny kWh load, like a remote gate. The bulk of the power generated would not be used by the electric gate and therefore more power would be sent to WCEC’s grid. Of note, though, this would not be the most financially beneficial way to use a solar system, since better economy is seen when producers use the electricity themselves and avoid purchasing the higher priced kWhs.  

Will my power go out during a WCEC power outage if I have solar?
Most likely. By design, the inverter or combiner is set to disconnect all power and not feed power into the house or onto WCEC lines. This feature is for the safety of the WCEC lineman or anyone that could encounter a downed power line. But some solar arrays have battery backup, that if configured correctly, can feed the home, and charge the batteries and not back feed onto WCEC’s lines. Depending on how much your system produces, you may be able to power some equipment. It’s all in how your system is designed.  

Does WCEC have a list of recommended installers?
No, but there are about 30 different companies that have successfully interconnected member systems to our grid. If you have questions after you’ve gotten several quotes and plans, our Solar Manager will be happy to look at them with a focused eye. He won’t make recommendations, but he can point out various features that may help you make a more informed decision. In the end, though, it’s up to each member to vet their selections and contractual agreement with their own provider.  

Can WCEC help me calculate my payback for my solar unit?
The investment and ultimate savings on a solar unit vary by companies, ecosystem, sun quality at the site, size of unit, quality of installation, rebates and tax credits and many other factors. Payback can take anywhere from 10 to 20 years, to actually never seeing a return on an investment. The range is extremely wide based on the size of your system, the azimuth of the sun, and the size, type, and placement of your system, as well as the expected and actual life cycle of your equipment. 

What else should I consider?
If your goal is to reduce your energy bill, first, make sure that your home or business is as energy efficient as possible. That’s because the best way to save money on electricity is to avoid buying it in the first place. To help with that, WCEC can provide a free energy audit, and make recommendations on beneficial improvements. 

Secondly, consider whether you intend to borrow the money to buy panels or will lease the panels. If you have outstanding debt, like a mortgage, it may be better financially, to get the mortgage paid off first.  

And speaking of mortgages and real property, if you are purchasing panels over time, when you sell your house, most solar contracts will require you to pay them off when the property is sold. So, make sure you add that into the sale price if that’s the case. Also, leasing panels can add requirements, so know your agreement terms.  

Lastly, know your motivation for considering solar. It is our biggest desire to help all members maximize their outcome based on what is most important to them.  Every member has their own economic and social reasons for choosing solar. Every member is encouraged to research to determine if adopting solar is a sound economical solution for them. We support all members in adopting what best suits them.  

How can I benefit from solar energy?
The cost of installing solar arrays has fallen dramatically, and in some regions with higher electricity costs, solar can be a cost-competitive option. It all depends on circumstances including available tax incentives, cost of your system, cost of electricity, and many other factors.  

Can a grid-tied solar system supply all my home’s electricity needs?
For most customers, grid-tied solar with proper direction orientation will provide approximately 40 to 50 percent of their home’s electricity, regardless of how large the system is. Installing a larger solar system cannot overcome these limitations because energy is only produced when the sun is shining. If the system produces more electricity than your home needs during these times, the excess production will flow to the electric grid rather than the home, unless you have battery back-up. But at night, when your system is not producing energy, you’ll be buying electricity from WCEC. 

Can solar energy be stored?
There are many different technologies for storing energy, including residential battery options. Batteries allow homeowners to save energy during high production, low demand times (i.e., during the workday) for use during high demand periods. These batteries are quite expensive though, so adding batteries would extend the payback of your system. 

How long do solar panels last? 
Assuming high quality modules and proper maintenance, the life of the system could be 20-30 years or more. However, the efficiency of the panels slowly degrades over time. Photovoltaic (PV) modules typically have a warranty for 25 years, for 80% of original output, and they may continue to provide power for years after.  

Are solar panels safe?
Yes, solar panels are safe as long as they are properly installed. There are fire risks associated with all electrical systems, including PV systems and module defects, improper installation, and general wear and tear including frayed wires, can lead to fires.  

Are all solar panels created equal?
While the efficiency of PV technology is improving because PV cells can’t respond to the entire spectrum of sunlight; up to 55% of the sun’s energy is wasted. The amount of energy produced by any given PV panel depends on four factors: the PV cell efficiency, the temperature response of the cells, the module layout, and the anti-reflective coating. High efficiency modules are recommended to allow more power to be generated by a with a smaller footprint of panels.  

Are solar panels carbon neutral?
Unlike fossil fuels, solar panels do not emit emissions while producing electricity. However, during production and transport, and the mining of the materials, they do have a carbon footprint. There are also several distinct types of solar panels made with different materials and metals that are mined. Depending on the panel, and also whether it is recycled after lifecycle, will determine how many years of it will take for your panels to reach a carbon neutral status. But most of the new panels, do that in 3 to 5 years. 

Can solar panels be recycled?
Yes, but it’s not as easy as recycling newspapers. Some companies include recycling as part of their initial system price. End-of-life disposal of solar products in the US is governed by the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and also by the state. Depending on the material of your panels, the state will have requirements.