How to Lease Solar Panels
You Can Lease Solar Panels Instead of Investing in Owning Solar Panels
Leasing solar panels is one of several ways to help finance solar power. But it may be one of the most lucrative. Even CBS News had a featured story on the subject. When you enter into a solar power lease, you don't own the system, but the terms of the lease agreement could save you significant funds that can help you with your monthly budget.
Don't believe me? Ask Kathy Nalty. She was profiled on CBS Evening News, sharing her story about going solar.
In her typical suburban house, which she shares with kids and grandma, five TVs and four computers, her electric bill went from $200-$300 a month to just $59 a month.
Nalty's solar panels are "free," due to a solar panel lease program. The company charges her $100 a month for the 15-year lease. Generous state and federal solar rebates - worth a couple thousand dollars - go to the company. Yet, with her electricity usage down, Nalty says she saves so much on electric bills that she comes out ahead about $100 each month.
How to Lease Solar Panels
Should You Consider a Solar Panel Lease?
There are basic considerations any property owner should review before deciding whether to purchase, lease or otherwise finance solar panels:
- What are your monthly electricity bills?
- What would the monthly payments be (under a lease or a loan)?
- Make sure that the payments are less than your average electricity bills
- Do you have equity in your home?
- Are you planning on staying in your home for at least the next 12-24 months?
- Would you prefer maintenance or repair of the solar panels to be done by professionals, or yourself?
- How much liquidity do you have (available cash?)
- What is your credit score? (should be at least 640)
What Should You Look for in a Solar Panel Lease?
Today, a number of companies are getting into the solar lease business. But what can you expect as a consumer?
Definitely check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that the company with which you are dealing is reputable. Review its website and even make a call to your local Chamber of Commerce to find out as much information as possible.
When you enter a solar panel lease, it is a binding contract. Both sides to the agreement must fulfill their promises, or risk legal action. Be sure to review every single provision in the agreement carefully. Given the value of solar panels, you may want to consider retaining a lawyer to help you make sure that all potential concerns are addressed and there are no overly restrictive terms.
The type of terms you will want to see in a solar panel lease include:
- Lease term: How long will you be leasing the panels (usually at least 5 years)
- Lease payments: How much will you pay, how often? Is there an escalation clause that gives the solar company the right to raise the rent?
- Early termination: Do you have the right to terminate the lease before the end of the term without penalty? If there is a penalty, how much?
- Lease renewal: Can you renew the lease? How? Under what terms?
- Maintenance of the solar panels: This should be the solar company's responsibility. Contact information should be spelled out specifically. Ideally, there should be a time stated within which a response must be made in case of damage or failure.
- Insurance: This should be the solar company's responsibility - to insure the solar panels.
- End of lease: What happens when the term is over? Removal of the panels, or will you as a consumer have the right to purchase the panels at a reduced cost? How will that cost be determined?
What Other Ownership Options Are There if you Want Solar Panels?
If you would prefer to purchase your own solar panels, instead of leasing them, you can still minimize the upfront cost by financing solar panels.
Options may include: direct vendor financing (through companies like Sharp Solar or BP Solar), power purchase agreements (the provider finances, installs and owns your solar panels, and you pay them instead of a utility company for power), local government loans (residents within the district borrow money from the municipality and pay it back through property tax increases) or Energy-Efficient Mortgages (financing for energy-efficient installations are secured by equity in your home).
The bottom line is that it's time to stop thinking about solar power as prohibitively expensive. You can go solar through a solar panel lease, or other financing options. And, like Kathy Nalty in the beginning of this article, you'll both save money and reduce your use of carbon-emitting, non-renewable resources.
That's a win all-around!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2009 Stephanie Marshall