By Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s Executive Director
Let me start with a confession: I’m the executive director of the country’s largest environmental organization, and I don’t have solar panels on my roof. Now wait a minute. Before you judge, I do have a few justifications. We have young children and funds have been tight… we had been planning to move for a while… we were saving up to buy a house, etc. All valid reasons, if I say so myself. But still, no solar.
Last year, the Sierra Club ran a pilot program in California to spread the news to our members and supporters that there’s never been a better time to add solar panels to their roofs. What’s made it accessible, even for young families with tight budgets, is solar leasing. That’s where you allow a solar company to install its panels on your roof. You can power your life with sunshine for as little as $0 down, and you might even end up paying less each month for that electricity than you do now.
Our pilot program was successful enough that we’re expanding it to seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. And, now that our family has moved to our new home, I’m finally ready to go solar, too.
But the economics are far from the only reason you should check out solar leasing. Solar is as green as it gets, and with the price of solar panels dropping dramatically, there’s never been a more affordable time to install a system. You can help displace dirty coal, or fracked natural gas, or even nuclear power, one home at a time. You’ll also lock in an affordable rate and protect yourself against soaring electricity rates in the years ahead.
If you’re interested in being a part of the Sierra Club’s program, the first step is to do what I did: Request a solariQuote. By using a satellite view of your roof like the one in Google maps, it’s possible to make a preliminary estimate of your system’s size. According to my iQuote, a solar system on our family’s roof would eliminate about 89,000 lbs. of carbon pollution during my lease, which is the equivalent of planting 1,037 trees (or of not driving 101,915 miles).
Once you supply some data on your utility bills, you can find out exactly how much you can expect to save (based on the plan you choose). On average, solar-leasing customers save about 15 percent on their electric bills.
Generally, people who can afford to purchase a system outright will get the biggest overall savings, but there are advantages to leasing a system besides not having to write a big check (solar panels have gotten a lot cheaper recently, but they’re still a significant investment for most homeowners). One is peace of mind: the leasing company is responsible for the maintenance of its systems, and they continuously monitor performance to make sure everything’s working right. And when your lease is finished, you can always opt to purchase the system at fair market value. For more on how solar leases work, see the Sierra Club’s website.
There are plenty of great solar installers across the country. The Sierra Club chose to partner with Sungevity for our program because we support their vision to grow a grassroots movement of clean-energy homeowners. Full disclosure: Sungevity will make a donation to the Sierra Club for each new customer that comes through our partnership. So you’ll be helping us fight dirty energy even as you install clean energy.
But the best reason to start harvesting all that free sunshine that’s falling on your rooftop is that each kilowatt hour ofsolar you generate replaces electricity that might otherwise come from burning a fossil fuel like coal or natural gas. And if you charge an EV or plug-in hybrid vehicle at home, you’re displacing yet another dirty fossil fuel — oil (and saving still more money).
Whether you decide to participate in the Sierra Club’s program or not, if you’re a homeowner like me who’s been itching to go solar, you owe it to yourself to look into solar leasing. It’s a great way to help the planet that could end up helping your budget, too.
Photo Credit: istock