Local company leases solar panels

October 31, 2008 7:23:12 PM PDT
Lots of people would like to put solar panels on their homes, but find the investment is too great. But there is a way to do it without the big upfront costs.

It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy a solar power system. But what if you could rent them instead? A Bay Area company lets you do just that, and possibly save you a lot of money along the way.

Yvette and Steve Widdicombe enjoy their backyard swimming pool, but not the huge electric bills they got by running the pool pump.

"Our bill was roughly $300 to $400 a month in the summer," said Yvette Widdicombe.

Now they've found a way to cut that electric bill way down, using the sun.

"We are down almost two-thirds of that with solar," said

The Widdicombes initially rejected the idea of installing solar panels because the upfront costs were way too high ranging $20,000 to $30,000.

"It's a big chunk of money you know $23,000 is a lot of money," said Steve Widdicombe.

Then they found Solar City, a Foster City company that leases solar panels. For a monthly fee starting at $100, you get to keep the power you produce, even sell back what you don't use. The Widdicombes say often their electric meter is running backward.

"When the arrow's going to the right, you are paying your energy and when it goes to the left PG&E is buying our electricity," said Yvette Widdicombe.

The Widdicombes say they pay $117 per month for solar panels. But their electric bill went down about $200 this month -- that's a net savings of about $80.

"To me it was like why wouldn't I do it," said Steve Widdicombe.

Solar City founder Lyndon Rive says business has shot up since the company started leasing panels last may. Already 1,000 Bay Area residents are renting, and it isn't just people in sunny Danville.

Matt Ray's home in foggy Daly City can churn out power too.

"I had my doubts when I looked at solar because we have so many foggy days," said Ray.

But Solar City did an analysis. Matt's roof has clear access to daylight, so it can absorb enough rays. Solar City also guarantees results. If your house doesn't produce what the company says, Solar City pays the difference.

"We will look at how much power is produced and how much power is promised and if there is a gap, we will make it up," said Solar City Owner Lyndon Rive.

He says many people want to go solar to save the planet. But if you want to save money too, here's who would benefit from leasing:

Households with electric bills of $150 or higher. Those without trees shading the roof. Those with roofs facing south.

"It's a cost saving, you're helping the environment. I'am loaning my roof, that's exactly what I've done. I've leased out my roof for 15 years," Steve Widdicombe.

Solar City says not everybody will save money, but the company has an online calculator that lets you punch in your zip code and other information to see if you might save money by leasing a solar system.


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