How Solar Works in Washington State

Posted by Samantha on September 18th, 2014
Easily the most common question we receive from customers, "does solar even work here?" is also one of our favorites to answer. Not only does solar work in Washington State, but there are many reasons why Washington, as well as the rest of the Pacific Northwest, is one of the best locations for solar in the country! From Vancouver to Bellingham, Clark County to Whatcomb County, and all the cities in between, more homeowners and businesses are installing solar than ever before. But what makes our rainy northern state such a prime location for generating power from the sun? Here are some answers to our most frequently asked questions from Washington residents...

It's so rainy and gloomy. How could solar possibly work in Washington?
Surprisingly, the rain and clouds actually work to our advantage in Washington! While solar panels do need sunlight to generate power, the intense heat that accompanies most super-sunny locations (like Arizona, Texas, or California) actually degrade the panels faster and make them less efficient over time. Solar generates the best in less than 90 degree temperatures, so the more mild climates of Oregon and Washington are ideal to ensure consistent and long-lasting panel performance! Additionally, our rainy days take care of washing grime and debris off of your solar array, practically eliminating the minimal maintenance we suggest on solar electric systems.

How much will solar save me on my electric bill?
The impact on your electrical bill will be largely determined by how large of system you choose to put on your home. Residential installs range anywhere from 5 kW to 15 kW, producing 5,000 kWhs to 15,000 kWhs annually. The average home uses somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 kWhs annually, saving you $600 to $1800 per year at current rates. It is worth noting that most major electric utilities (PSE, SCL, PGE, etc) have more than doubled their rates in the last 10 years, and they continue to rise at about 7% per year.

How will solar affect my property value?
The net change in property value is difficult to quantify exactly. Like many home improvements, it is largely related to the quality of the work completed and if the potential customer views the work as favorable or not. As solar becomes more mainstream and design focused, we have seen a larger net gain in home value as a result of the addition of solar. Your property value will definitely increase as a result of quality, designed-focused solar installation, but the exact amount is largely subjective to the prospective buyer.

What are my options, and what do they cost?
SolTerra currently bids and installs with 3 solar panel manufacturers: Itek EnergySolar World and SunPower. They each have their own advantages, and customers choose to go with different systems based on their own motivations. The majority of our residential installs range between $25,000 and 50k depending on the size and scope of the project. There are solar specific loan programs available that many customers utilize to minimize the impact on their immediate cash-flow, the most popular being the Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union Energy Smart Loan.

How long does the whole process take? What about the installation itself?
Depending on the season and the manufacturer the customer chooses, the time from contract to installation ranges from two week to eight weeks on average. Predictably, summer is the busiest time for most solar companies, so scheduling and material lead times can push the project installation date out several weeks. However, winter is one of the best times to install solar- there is more flexibility with scheduling, and materials arrive quicker from the manufacturer. Many customers choose to install their solar in the winter not only to ensure that their system is up and operational long before summertime, but to take advantage of the tax credits: if you install in November/December, you only have to wait a few months until tax time to receive a large chunk of your investment back from the federal government.

When it comes to the install itself, most systems take 2-4 days to complete start to finish, depending on the complexity of the installation. Generally, we only need interior access 1 - 2 days to tie the system into your existing electrical panel. SolTerra has several crews, and we allocate resources as necessary to complete the work within that 4 day time window whenever possible. SolTerra handles all permitting and paperwork necessary to complete the install on behalf of the customer. We pride ourselves on making this an easy and relatively painless project to undertake!

How long do solar panels last?
Panel manufacturers warranties range from 25-30 years while inverter warranties range from 10-25 years depending on components specified. SolTerra warranties all materials and labor for 10 years free and clear. A realistic expectation is a 35-40 year lifespan on the panels with some inverter options needing replacement roughly halfway through the lifespan of the panels. 


I hear there are incentives available that help offset the cost. What are they, and how do they work?

There are two "main" incentives and two "bonus" incentives that help make solar affordable for you! They are:

  • 30% Federal tax credit on the entire system cost (billable amount to you). This allows you to offset 30% of your total system cost within the first year!
  • A $.15-$.54 cent per kWh generated Washington State Production Incentive that allows you to receive up to $5000 per year for each July 1st - June 30th calendar’s year production now through June 30th of 2020. In short, many of our customers will receive $15,000-$25,000 over the course of the next 6 years from Washington State. 

    Bonus!

  • Systems up to 10kW are sales tax exempt, while systems above 10kW are eligible for a 75% sales tax refund on the paid amount.
  • A Net Metering agreement with your utility ensures that any power you push back onto the grid from your solar system isn't lost or wasted- your bill is credited at the going rate of power, allowing you to "save up" solar during the summer, and then use these credits to offset your bill during the gloomier months of the year.
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