From Prometheus Garden, claymation animation by Bruce Bickford
In order to start the process of designing the system for our solar panels we needed to wait until we had a bill from our utility company. Amie and I had just moved in, and with Central Hudson’s billing system, this meant we needed to wait two months before we could fully dive in.
Weeks passed. We hosted a haunted housewarming on Halloween and projected Bruce Bickford animations on the living room wall. We visited my dad in Baltimore for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat (featuring a Quorn Turk’y Roast and all the best fixin’s). The plans for our wedding in May started to crystallize and get put into action. I turned twenty-seven. Then one day we got a call from Verengo, and we were ready to get things rolling. So we scheduled a time for a salesperson to come visit our home to tell us more about Verengo’s solar leasing program.
Our salesperson, Michael, arrived at the somewhat farcical hour of 4:30pm…exactly 24 hours before we expected him! Luckily, Amie and I were in for the night anyway and more than happy to welcome him to chat about solar for a while. We got him a glass of water and sat down to talk shop.
I wanted to know everything, and I tried to think of all the questions I had considered before Michael arrived. Yes, Verengo would come and do maintenance if any issues arose. No, we would not need to pay any money upfront for site assessment, permits, or installation. I learned that we’ll be able to log onto the web and watch the energy the panels are collecting in real time (which totally makes me drool as a data analyst).
In between questions, we got to know Michael. Aside from being a sales representative with Verengo, Michael Balkind, as it turns out, is an author. He has written four sports mysteries. His most recent book, The Fix, was co-authored with NBC Sports journalist, Ryan Burr, and follows a college quarterback and a football referee as they tumble further into the world of sports gambling.
In between getting to know Michael, I got to know Verengo. The company has been around since 2008 when its co-founders (Ken Button and Randy Bishop) acquired a small California home improvement company called Jemstar Builders and turned it into a home solar installation business. Since then the company has grown to install over 13,000 residential rooftop solar panel systems, earning $115 million in revenue in 2013, with over 1300 employees across the country.
We gave Michael our 2-month utility bill to run the numbers and make a projection for what our usage would be like throughout the year (accounting for fluctuations in the summer when window air conditioners would pull more juice from those wires in the wall). There was a certain amount of data entry and processing that needed to run before we’d get an estimate for what our payments would look like. So I headed to the kitchen to grab a snack.
While numbers were crunching in the other room, Amie—diligently skeptical—gave me a look and handed me her computer. This site was open—describing solar leases as a scam. I scanned through the page while she talked to Michael in the other room. I slowly got the sinking sensation that maybe we were being swindled. I knew it was too good to be true, I thought. I was foolish to think that there’s a system in place set up by corporations where everybody benefits.
I have since found that there are plenty of these sites on the internet that will tell you that solar leases are unequivocally scams (usually sites with low-quality web design to accompany their own scam-and-spam language). These are usually created by solar companies that do not offer a leasing option, and are therefore trying to convince consumers that it’s a bad idea to lease (to get more people coming to them to buy the panels outright).
As I’ve discussed in a previous post, a solar lease is not the best return on investment you can possibly get for solar. It is, however, one of the only practical solutions available to consumers who can’t afford the up-front cost of buying panels themselves (i.e., $20-40k).
The data projection finished. Our numbers came back and I was openly astonished to see that our regular monthly payments would be half of our average monthly utility bill. On top of that, we learned that we would get a tax rebate covering every single payment we made to Verengo for up to five years.
It took a good amount of thorough conversation between Amie, Michael, and myself, but by the end of it all we were convinced. Seeing it all laid out, by the end it seemed like a no-brainer: lower cost electricity, maintenance and upkeep covered by Verengo, the ability to transfer the lease to a new owner if we sold the house, immediate environmental impact. We read and signed the proper documents and came to the close of a 3-hour endeavor.
We bade Michael farewell. He wished us luck with our wedding. And we were one step closer to getting solar panels.
- For those interested in more detail on solar leases, I cover them in more depth here.
- If you live in the New York area, I highly recommend Michael Balkind as someone who can help you go solar. You can contact him here.