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SolarCity offering group discounts to residents for solar panels

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fahey5.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

A California company that manufactures solar panels is offering group discounts of about 30 percent to Long Beach and Signal Hill residents who decide to have the conversion system installed on their rooftops. SolarCity, based in Foster City, has already successfully offered its “community pricing” program to about 24 California cities and began offering the discounts locally about two months ago.
Solar panels contain photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. “They produce electricity in the form of direct current (DC) but homes operate on alternating current (AC),” said Brady Radovich, one of the company’s solar energy consultants. He explained that along with the panels, crews install an inverter that converts the DC into AC before feeding it into the house.
Radovich noted that the solar panels typically produce more electricity than the average house uses during daylight hours and the excess wattage is fed into the local power grid. “The electric company then gives the homeowner credits for the electricity fed into the grid,” he said, adding that the credits are deducted from the monthly wattage billed to the homeowner by the power company.
According to Radovich, most electric companies sell electricity on a five-tier format, which means that the more you use, the more expensive it is per kilowatt. “We try to shave off the most expensive parts of someone’s electric bill (tiers 2 to 5),” he said, adding that an 80 percent deduction in electric bills is not uncommon after the installation of solar panels. Radovich added that a solar panel system will typically pay for itself in about 10 years.
The system produces electricity even on cloudy days but loses about 25 percent of its efficiency under overcast skies. They even produce a minimal amount of electricity during rainy days. The panels work best when they are cold, according to Radovich. “The highest producing time is during a crisp, clear winter day,” he noted. “The brighter the day, the more electricity is produced.”
Radovich noted that a typical single-family home in the Long Beach/Signal Hill area requires a 3-kilowatt solar panel system. “At market value, that system costs about $22,000,” he said. “With community pricing, that same system costs about $16,000.”
He explained that the discount is similar to price reductions offered by other companies when a customer buys a large quantity of an item they produce. “It’s using the economy of scale and applying it to solar systems,” he said.
SolarCity asked Long Beach resident and independent consultant Mary Barton to become the “Solar Champion” for this area. “I agreed to do that, to play a cheerleader role in helping the community know about this, but only after I investigated SolarCity and found them to be a reputable, leading-edge company,” she said. “But I have always been in favor of solar power because of its positive impact on the environment.”
Barton, who holds a Ph. D. in business administration, had worked as a professor for several schools including CSULB, before going into consulting. “SolarCity’s community pricing program is very similar to something I had suggested to the City of Long Beach,” she said. “I thought we could solicit companies to come here by using the economy of scale to take advantage of the (density of population) in this relatively small area.”
SolarCity originally offered the community-pricing program only to Long Beach residents who signed contracts for solar system installations by the end of January. The company conducted several meetings to explain the discount plan to interested homeowners. The problem was that many people in the area had not heard about the discount until late January and wanted more time to think about it. “At our last two meetings, Long Beach residents demanded that we extend the offer for one more month,” Radovich said. “At the same time, Signal Hill residents demanded that they be included in the last month of the program.” He noted that the company decided to extend the program to the end of February and to include Signal Hill homes in the community-pricing plan. “The residents of Signal Hill persuaded us that operationally it makes sense to include them in the plan as well because the whole city is surrounded by Long Beach,” he said. “On its own, Signal Hill could not reach the threshold that we would need to be able to offer a community program, but grouped with Long Beach they are able to take advantage of Long Beach residents’ commitment to purchase the systems.”
Signal Hill City Councilwoman Ellen Ward said the plan looked good to her. “I urge people to go to the meetings and make their own evaluation,” she added. “It doesn’t cost anything to listen.” Ward, who lives in a condominium, plans to propose solar panel installation to her homeowners’ association.
Radovich noted that producing clean electricity from the sun’s rays is an important element in the movement to make communities sustainable. “The residents of Long Beach and Signal Hill are truly in the front wave of taking sustainable energy into their own hands,” he said. “With federal, state and city support, the residents are making big strides toward reducing this area’s carbon footprint for decades to come.”
The last Long Beach meeting to explain the community-pricing offer was held at the El Dorado Park Library on Feb. 12. SolarCity has scheduled two meetings in Signal Hill to explain the program in more detail. The first meeting will be at Discovery Well Park (Hill Street and Temple Avenue) 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 16. The final meeting will be at Signal Hill Community Center, 1780 East Hill Street, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Feb. 19. For more information, phone toll-free (888) 765-2489 or visit www.solarcity.com.

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SolarCity offering group discounts to residents for solar panels