Going Solar: How going off-grid can and can’t help

February 13th, 2012

We installed solar electric in July 2007 in Northern California. When you install solar in PG&E territory you change from a residential customer to a commercial producer and receive a monthly accounting. As days become shorter and colder we use more electricity and we’re starting to eat into our summer surplus. Next July will tell if we properly projected our usage and size of our system. Real Goods Solar  (then operating as Marin Solar) did our installation and we are extraordinarily pleased with their service and work. We used Sunpower panels which, at the time, were the most efficient panels available.

Being an accountant, a cost-benefit analysis was a must. Being house rich and cash poor we took out a HELOC loan to pay for the system but our monthly payments are equal to our previous average electric bill. The previous 3 years electric bills increased annually an average of 12% so, just keeping the monthly payment the same  for the next 20 years will protect us from energy inflation.

Many of the Federal & State tax credits which allowed us an affordable system are no longer be offered but at least one utility CEO has gone on record as projecting that your own solar will be cheaper than the grid between 2014 and 2016 due to decreasing PV costs

I’ve been considering a solar battery charger to keep those pesky batteries on cell phones, iPods & cameras on ready call. Some research though is making me reconsider. The jury is still out on this decision.

Update, July 2011: PG&E, calculated our year-end discrepancy and we owed the equivalent of one to 1-1/2 month’s bill to them at year-end. This is mainly because much of the family decided that “since we have solar, it doesn’t matter how much electricity we use” – NOT! All being said, I think we calculated our optimal usage and number of panels appropriately. As the children move out of the house we should be able to run a surplus and sell back to PG&E under California Public Utilities Commission ruling on Net Energy Metering (NEM) .

We’re looking into solar thermal (hot water).  I understand it, there is great variation on recommended systems depending on what part of the country that you live in so read this \”Homeowners Perspective\”, based in the San Francisco Bay area, with that in mind. Search out solar hot water information based in your local area for the best info for you.

Refinancing & credit card debt

July 18th, 2008
The federal administration proposed sub-prime bailout is not so much to bail out the victims as to bail out the banks and financial institutions that made the bad loans in the first place. The steps are not mandatory but voluntary to the mortgage companies. NYTimes 

Homeowners might be offered a “opportunity” to extend the length of the loan meanwhile building up less equity and paying more interest over the lifetime of the loan. Many were steered into sub-prime variable loans when they would have qualified for a fixed rate loan anyway; the federal plan would give a slap on the wrist to lenders and have them restructure the loan back to the fixed rate that they should have qualified for in the first place. The plan doesn’t help those who never should have qualified in the first place and were given loans with a wink from the mortgage broker who stood to make a tidy sum from the loan points.

Voluntary rate freezes suggested by the administration have little support from mortgage investors who are not thinking about the future consequences of being inflexible. Mortgage brokers, handlers, banks & investors are blaming everyone except themselves; each group is as greedy as the next and each built their expectations on a house of cards. (Sigh…two of my bank stocks have not done very well lately, fortunately they are well diversified banks). Only 12% of subprime borrowers & 5% of minorities would be helped by rate freezes says the Greenlining Institute .

The plan floated by the administration covers almost no loans in California because of the size of the mortgages – guess where most of the bad loans are? California Assembly

The California Assembly is proposing steps that would both prohibit certain types of mortgage rate structures and fees in the future as well as require lenders to work with the state to reach out to distressed borrowers

What does it mean to you with perfectly fine credit records? You are being solicited to extend their term length so mortgage companies can feed their habit with dependable suppliers. See Footnoted.

What can you do? Be aware of mortgage solicitations and what they will cost you over the long term. Pay your credit cards on time – consider an automatic online bill-pay if you are just plain forgetful so you don’t get hit with late fees and subsequent rate hikes based on late payments.

If you don’t pay off your credit cards each month, don’t charge ANYTHING you would expect to not have at least 3 years later: never use credit for food & toiletries, fashion clothes & accessories, tuition, day-to-day medical, etc.

Best is to save so you may purchase what you truly need with cash. An item is not truly a bargain if you add in the costs of paying 10-20% interest on it over several years.

If you must use credit, use it for truly long term and match the credit term to how long you’ll have the item or less. If you buy cars every 5 years don’t pay for them with a 30 year home equity loan; don’t even get a 7 year auto loan. If you can’t afford a 5 year auto loan, look at a less expensive car or reconsider if this is a “need” or just a “want”.

Holiday time is around the bend. How many unwanted gifts have you recieved in the past? How many gifts that you have given have you actually seen the recipient use or talk about since you gave it? Give gifts of your time or talents and don’t go into debt that you’ll still be paying off next year. Give your children the gift of teaching them fiscal responsibility.