Few residents in Lubbock have switched to solar energy.
Sure, it takes more of an effort than just calling the utility provider to have electricity turned on. And up front it seems more expensive, but one seller in Lubbock says that’s just one of the misconceptions they’re trying to reverse, and Lubbock area utilities including South Plains Electric Cooperative and Lubbock Power & Light say their customers can benefit from the investment.
You may not know it from looking around Lubbock, but Texas is the fifth largest solar energy producing state, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Here in the Hub City, officials at LP&L say fewer than 25 of the over 200,000 household residents use solar energy. SPEC says less than 20 of its residents use solar.
Chris Harrington, solar manager at AMP Electric, wasn’t surprised by those numbers. But he expects major growth in residential and commercial solar use in the near future — he said the climate in Lubbock is too good for people not to take advantage of solar.
“Drive eastbound in the morning or westbound in the evening and tell me what you see, and we get sun pretty much all day.,” said Harrington. “And the rates are here, we’re already cheaper on solar than you buying old energy. If we educate people and we do it the right way, this will be one of the greatest places for solar. Our sun is abundant — we’re flat and there’s few trees.”
That’s not to mention the appeal of sustainability. When Harrington sits down to talk about the benefits of solar, though, he likes to talk about the dollars.
Al Mersiovsky lives in southwest Lubbock and is one of the few residents in Lubbock to have switched to solar. In his 80′s, he admits he’s probably unlikely most of the solar users in the city. But with a background in accounting, Mersiovsky said it was simply a financial decision. He viewed it as an investment to his home, and has been paying around $30 to $50 less per month since he got the panels on his home in March of this year.
“I gave it some thought,” said Mersiovsky. “I was thinking about my pocketbook. I figured I was just moving dollars from LP&L to my own energy. Like I say, I’m out no more cash than I would have been if I hadn’t changed.”
Mersiovsky has kept track of his monthly payments for energy year-over-year. The first bill he got in April after getting solar, he paid $130 for electricity, compared to $164 he paid the prior April. The new bills include the meter charges and some electricity he’s still getting from LP&L, and he’s also factoring in the now $80 monthly payments he’s paying AMP Electric for his panels.
For the hotter month of June, he paid $186 compared to $241 last year.
It is for Mersiovsky, but solar may not be cost effective for every homeowner. Some things to consider when deciding to go solar is sunlight exposure, electric usage, the cost of solar panels, the condition of the roof and how long you intend to live in your home.
Electric usage is the main factor, as the payments for the panels could be greater than the cost for electricity. Electric rates in Lubbock are, in comparison, lower than most in Texas. Harrington said it’s not worth investing in panels for the lower electric users.
There are other cost factors to consider as well. Mersiovsky gets the 30 percent federal solar tax credit, but he also pays slightly more for homeowners insurance. His panels are insured in the event of a large hail storm, for example. Harrington said a household using over 2,000 kWh a month is probably going to get about 24 panels. Those panels without the tax credit will cost around $22,000, with the cost spread out across 20 years if one finances.
Mersiovsky said he hasn’t noticed a difference since the panels have gone up. Not all his power comes from his solar , which is why he still pays an LP&L electricity bill each month. He’s using solar when his panels are producing energy during the day, but at night or when there’s cloud coverage he’s solely reliant on LP&L’s grid.
Harrington said that’s one of the misconceptions about going solar; people don’t need to purchase large batteries. Homeowners basically just use solar when it’s available. Harrington said he thinks battery technology will improve in the near future to be a better option financially, but it’s not there yet.
When a homeowner with LP&L wants to go solar, they first need to sign an interconnection agreement with LP&L, and the city’s building inspection department needs to approve it also. Once it gets approved and the property is inspected, the solar company will install the panels and get it hooked up, and LP&L will install a second electric meter for the practice of what’s called net metering.
For residents with solar, Matt Rose, spokesman for LP&L, said payments are based on net metering. Residents producing solar energy are not able to load it onto the grid because LP&L has a wholesale contract with Xcel, requiring only Xcel energy be used for LP&L customers.
One of the two meters tracks the amount of energy used at the property, and the other tracks the amount of solar electricity produced. LP&L’s meter readers subtract the two, and bill the difference. So LP&L customers are only billed what they use from LP&L’s grid.
Rates for solar users are lower, which Rose said is an incentive for some. At a household using less that 1,000kWh, LP&L’s rates for solar users is 1.3 cents per kWh during the summer and .4 cents per kWh in the non-summer months. Regular customers getting all their electricity from LP&L pay 3.4 cents per kWh.
Solar users, however, do pay a higher service availability charge for the meters, at $30.43 a month. Again for comparison, average customers pay $8.07 per month.
Wind energy cannot be used inside the city due to city code.
Homeowners under South Plains Electric Cooperative, which does not have that wholesale contract, can benefit from excess energy from solar users. Randal Bailey with SPEC said excess energy can flow back onto the grid. So on a sunny days when energy usage is low that excess solar energy can flow back onto the grid and power another home.
SPEC will offset the cost of its energy and the energy put onto the grid. This “buy back” model at SPEC is different from the net metering model used at LP&L because electricity can flow both ways at SPEC, and most other electric markets.
Rose said homeowners interested in going solar should research the cost and their electric usage to make sure it’s a good decision financially. He said LP&L encourages homes to go solar because it lowers the city’s peak demand, but he said it’s a significant investment that isn’t financially beneficial to everyone.
Harrington crunches those numbers with people looking into solar. He details current bills and compares expenses with solar. He agreed that for some homes it may not be a good decision, but he argues for it in most cases.
Harrington is one of a few local sellers, but he says he’s the only one-stop-shot. He said people purchase the panels through AMP, which then installs the panels, does the electric work, turns it on and then makes themselves available for questions and repairs. Harrington said they set a guaranteed usage, and if it hits lower than that AMP reimburses the user. They also have a 25-year guarantee on their panels.
Harrington, a native of the area, worked for a solar business in Austin before moving back to Lubbock just over a year ago. He was a private seller before teaming up with AMP Solar Squad this year. There are big things ahead for the Amp Solar Squad — they’re building a marketing campaign and constructing a large show room at their location at 10101 Highway 87.
Harrington thinks there are misconceptions about going solar in Lubbock, and he’s on a mission to change that.
“We’re in a time where we should own our energy,” Harrington said. “The benefit of solar, you’re talking 30 to 40 years of energy that’s going to be created after you’ve paid it off in 10 or 20 (years). Solar is the future. With solar, you’re no longer buying energy with solar, you’re buying the equipment that produced the energy.”