Juggling with solar panels


By Kit Flynn

As a woman of a certain age, I’m finding it difficult to be with it or as the French would say, au courant.

In a sudden inspiration that I, alone, must solve the problems of global climate change, I went through the process of ordering solar panels, which I detailed in “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Originally, the company was to install them in April whereas I opined that I needed them a bit earlier (preferably the day after I placed the order) as wearing my-saving-the-planet halo was proving to be a bit hard to balance. I told the company that time was not on my side; they heard my pleas and moved up the installation date by two weeks.

Now, there are some caveats in the solar-panel-purchasing game. Rule number one: Research your company as you will be very dependent upon them. There are lots of formalities, some rather unfathomable, that will confront you. If you are like me, you need the company to take you through each step, paw in hand.

Rule number two: You will be dealing with Duke Energy and there’s no way around it. Duke essentially takes the power you generate and returns it to you as you need it. Duke also needs to see that your house is properly insured – and by “properly,” I do not mean a written assurance from your insurance company. They insist on seeing the whole policy, the one with pages to it that you probably have never read. Your insurance company will express amazement that anyone wants this as they have e-mailed their assurance that you are properly insured, only to be told by Duke that the information is insufficient.

Duke Energy will drive you crazy, which is the reason you have a solar panel company that knows how to handle it. Use and treasure their expertise. Duke also held a raffle for those of us who were installing solar panels within a certain period of time. Why they held a raffle, I have no idea but my company fortunately walked me through the raffle-entry process as some of the questions were incomprehensible.

I, who specializes in losing raffles, managed to eke out a win.

Rule number 3: The town has to inspect the installation and will take its own sweet time. The company handles this, saving you from the nagging that usually begins, “As a taxpayer….”

Rule number 4: There will probably be some hiccups along the way so you’ll have to learn to roll with the punches. My principal setback was to learn the day before the scheduled installation (a Friday) I did not have zoning consent from the town. While in the case of solar panels,  this is purely a formality, it cannot be ignored.

The company was great. Before I could remind Chapel Hill that I was a taxpayer, the company discovered that my request had slid under a deluge of paper. By sitting on the powers that be, the company got the necessary documentation and the installation began the following Monday.

The actual installation was painless. An electrician worked in the back setting up the connection for Duke Power while the others installed the 22 panels. Before he left, the electrician made sure that the panels were generating power—and then turned everything off.

For a lady of a certain age who devoutly believes in instant gratification, that was tough but before it can run, the town had to come out to give its final approval. Only then would Duke Energy consent to hook up with my grid. The estimate for the system to fully start up after installation was between 10 to 14 days. For those of us who lack patience, this definitely counts as being a fly in the ointment.

The inspection was to take place on the Friday after the installation but was delayed because (horrors!) one of the wires leading to the panel was white rather than red. The inspector, who caught this flagrant mishap on paper, said he would flunk the inspection until it was changed. My contact with the company assured me the wire would be replaced and the inspection would ultimately occur. He told me emphatically not to bone up on my taxpayer speech — and to stay out of the fracas.

The inspection took place, Duke Energy connected the grid to their system, and suddenly, it was a go, thereby refreshing my climate-change halo. The raffle check should arrive via an anonymous third party in about five weeks.

There’s one caveat to my experience: Mine was a simple installation. My house faces south, there were no trees sheltering the roof from the sun and I already had a generator so I didn’t require a backup system.

Now I expect to greet my next electric bill with a certain degree of smugness.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howyourgardengrows@icloud.com.

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