Dispatch from SSC Consultant, Lorre Walker
This series of blog posts covers my parents’ decision to install solar panels on their house in Dallas, Texas, the trials and tribulations of the process, and lessons learned after installation was completed.
While getting solar panels sounds exciting, there was some drama along the way. I thought it would be interesting to read a “journal” of my parents’ solar panel experience.
October 15, 2009 – We met with the service provider rep salesman to discuss solar panels, installation, and other green projects that they offered. Signed agreement for green projects: for solar panels, Freon replacement with HC22, radiant barrier in attic, and solar-powered attic fan replacing turbine.
October 29, 2009 – Created spreadsheet of electric power use showing watts, costs, and payments made to TXU. Emailed spreadsheet to the service provider rep salesman.
November 11, 2009 – The service provider rep measured the light at all four corners of the house and inspected the indoor power panel.
November 12, 2009 – The service provider rep said they will start installing the radiant barrier on Friday 13th. It should be a two-day process. Will need a light for them to use in the attic, since it is unlit.
November 13, 2009 – Radiant barrier installing – 1st day. It took two men to install. Three men in management, including a service provider division manager, came to observe at one point.
November 14, 2009 – Radiant barrier completely installed.
November 24, 2009 – Called the service provider rep to check on status of installations. Need to have everything installed by end of 2009. They will call next week after Thanksgiving with scheduling. Also asked rep specific questions about the Freon replacement with hydrocarbon. The service provider manager rep said schedule would be:
- Freon replacement with HC this week or by end of next week
- Attic fan this week or by end of next week
- Solar panels in the third week of December
He said HC22 is the hydrocarbon. He said no mechanical refitting is needed on the A/C unit. He said acid flush and vacuuming of lines will be done in conjunction with Freon replacement.
December 3, 2009 – The service provider manager says he is working with Oncor rep. He said Oncor would take 8-10 weeks to process everything and get credit after filing. Schedule:
- Monday about 9 AM installation of solar roof attic fan
- Friday plan to replace Freon
- Next week The service provider manager will have schedule for solar panels
He says acid wash on A/C lines is not good, that it leaves pockets of acid, that special oil is used.
December 7, 2009 – Researched R22 (Freon) vs R410A (Puron). A service provider contractor installed the solar-powered vent/turbine (attic fan) on the roof, on the front of house on southeast side.
December 11, 2009 – I called the service provider manager but the phone was not working. Left message with answering service. NO response on phone calls and two emails.
December 14, 2009 – Received voicemail on cell phone about HC22. Received a call responding to one of my calls last week. They thought I was calling about buying panels (new business). I told her I was calling about delivery. She put the service provider rep on the phone. The service provider rep said he needed me to fax him the current TXU bill. The service provider rep needed our ESI #. The service provider rep said he needed to work with us on the paperwork for Oncor “pre-approval” forms and such. I told him that the service provider manager had assured my husband and me that we had no paper work to sign or do. He will call Tuesday with schedule.
December 15, 2009 – The service provider rep called in morning to set up installation. HC22 to be installed today in 3-ton A/C unit. At 2:30pm, the service provider contractor removed Freon (R22) and replaced it with HC22. Steps involved:
- Remove Freon
- Replace with HC22
- Check for leaks
- Testing A/C and thermostat to put out cold air
- Acid wash is not needed because HC22 is fully compatible with R22 (Freon)
The service provider rep called asking me to fax him a signed Oncor form. Faxed form for Oncor to the service provider rep. The service provider rep said each solar panel would produce 2 kilowatts (bigger high volume than he planed). Panel description:
- Dimension would be approx. 2’ x 5’
- Installed in two rows of five panels each
- Located on east side of roof toward the back of the house (north end)
December 16, 2009 – We may be getting the solar panels on the 18th. The plan is to have them installed by the 23rd. But they will not be making electricity until everything goes through with ONCOR/TXU Energy in six or seven weeks.
The service provider rep called. He sent me another Oncor form. (Application for Interconnection and Parallel Operation). I signed and faxed it to the service provider rep. The service provider rep said they plan to begin installation starting 12/18/09 with completion 12/23/09. He said he is submitting the forms to Oncor.
The panels will not make electricity for our grid until six or seven weeks later, to have permission to use the solar power. Once installed, testing and project approval take place. Everything is “hurry up and wait”. They dragged their feet on paperwork, now rush-rush to be completed in time for the tax credit before the end of 2009. As long as panels are installed before the end of the year, we can take the tax credit this year. He said installers from Austin and 80 miles away are coming in to install the panels.
The service provider rep called saying Oncor is playing politics. Oncor does not have the signed contract he sent, verifying our payment to the service provider rep!! Am not sure what to believe. Installation cannot be on Thursday 12/17/09; he is rescheduling the installation for Friday 12/18/09. He said he has his “foot on the pedal”, but that he is concerned about Christmas vacation coming up and scheduling conflicts. I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT THE SERVICE PROVIDER REP DELAYS, after assurances LAST MONTH BY THE SERVICE PROVIDER MANAGER that all will be completed this year and that no paper work was needed.
December 17, 2009 – The service provider rep called. Oncor had rejected the proposal again. This time because the service provider rep had not informed us about the amount of their Oncor rebate. We are now informed. The service provider rep said expect installation between 8 AM and noon tomorrow.
December 18, 2009 – The service provider contractor arrived to install solar panels.
December 21, 2009 – Argh! Having fits with the installers. Electrician says we need new updated electrical panel to support the solar panel converter. We are battling it out. Of course this means new expense. The question is who is going to pay for it…The main contractor or us? They had four people come in and look at the panel. So this is a nasty surprise to us. We already ended up with larger solar panels than expected, because of their lack of planning.
I returned call to the electrician. I was at an early morning appointment and no one told me they would be there in the morning to continue electrical work. TXU installed new thermostat. We can control indoor temps from the thermostat touch pad or by our computer (via modem).
The electrician came to install the SMA (Sunny Boy inverter) and do wiring connection. At 1:00pm the electrician tells me that the electrical control panel in our house is old “federal” model and is not up to code. The panel must be replaced with new up-to-code model. It would be illegal to hook up the SMA inverter to the old panel because the old federal electrical panels are considered fire hazards. He could not reach the service provider rep or manager to discuss if it was covered in the solar installation plan or what to do next. The work would cost an additional $3,000. BIG SURPRISE!!!! EXPENSIVE SURPRISE!!!
The service provider rep told me to call the service provider manager for him to settle the issue. I called the service provider manager and left message, telling him to call me about electrician. I then texted him from my cell phone to call me immediately. The service provider manager texted me back that he is getting a haircut and could not talk to me then. I texted the service provider manager again to “fix problem ASAP.”
At 3:13pm, I called the electrician to see if the service provider manager had contacted him. The electrician called saying he talked to the service provider manager and the service provider manager should have called me by now. The electrician said he would call the service provider manager again. The electrician says the contract states that it does not cover upgrades!!!! I confirmed that in the contract. The service provider rep left us over the barrel at the last minute. They had previously had five people in our house that looked at our electrical panel and said it would handle the solar panels. The service provider rep did not previously advise us that the panel would have to be replaced or inform us of the costliness of the work involved. I called the electrician and scheduled him to return in the morning (Tuesday 12/22) to replace the electrical panel and rewire. 4:01 PM The service provider manager called (finally). He tried to slough it off. He is already on Christmas holiday and he “had the courtesy to call back away from the work office.” HA!!! According to the contract, I have to work it out with the electrician or I can bring another electrician at this late date, the week of Christmas. I told him he had us over a barrel with this being the end of the year and that we were depending on the tax credit to pay for this project. I told him that this was supposed to be a show-piece house and we were VERY UPSET!
Called the electrician; he will do his best to get things done. He says another local client had ordered solar panels in September from this service provider and just got them installed. They were also VERY unhappy with the service provider rep, since the service provider dragged their heels and did not get the work done until the last minute. However, the electrician believes we should be VERY happy with the product. He will back on Tuesday morning about 8:30 to do the electrical work.
December 22, 2009 – The electrician and his team of electricians came to install the new electrical panel and SMA. At 10:00am, the power was turned off during the installation. At 4:20pm, power was restored to house, lighting is operational. By 6:30pm, the electrician was finished except for turning on the solar panels and labeling the switches in the electrical panel. I told him I would pay when all was done. He told me the City of Dallas building inspector will come on Wednesday.
December 23, 2009 – The electrician called to say his truck has broken down and the inspector is on the way. He told me to go ahead and show the work to the inspector. I showed him the indoor junction box (which is now locked) where the old panel was. I also showed him the new box on the outside wall. He said the converter is not turned on and electrical panel switches are not labeled. The inspector gave me the “Building Inspection Division ‘Work is Acceptable, Construction May Proceed’” green paper. He said, do not give approval green paper to the electrician until things were labeled and the inverter is working. He said I could tell things are working if the meters and read out on several meters are changing or displaying. He also said, do not pay electrician until all work is done.
At 10:30am, the electrician arrived and put permit on door. He turned on inverter and the grid meter visibly slowed down and the SMA had a readout. He gave me the solar inverter (SMA) Sunny Boy pamphlet with instructions and manual. He turned it off for Oncor to do their paperwork and the grant of approval—THEN the solar panels could be turned on again. He began labeling the electrical panel switches. He had to run to store to get batteries for the walkie-talkie so he and helper could communicate.
The electrician was finished by noon. All labels are on electrical panel. All lights and plugs appear to be operational. Paid bill by check for $3,000.00. We are now waiting for Oncor to approve it so we can turn on and run the solar power.
Check back in a couple of days for the 2nd half of my mom’s personal journal of her solar panel installation experiences. To continue the discussion on the SSC Consultant Discussion Board, click here.
For SSC clients, it may or may not make sense for you to consider installing solar panels or making other energy-saving additions to your building. We can help you figure that out by conducting an energy audit or a green audit. For information about our products and services in this area, click here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.