One spring day in 2007 I heard from two different friends, Scott and Dave, who had each (independently) ran into Cary Hayes of REC Solar at the local Costco. Scott and Dave both live in Rock Creek, and both know that I have a strong interest in solar power. Cary told them that REC had engaged the Rock Creek HOA and had several projects in progress; they passed that information on to me.

This bit of news was music to my ears. My previous dreams of installing solar power at my house ended in the paragraph of the Rock Creek covenants that states that solar panels must be countersunk into the roof so that the top of the panel is flush with the surface of the roof. Or if the panels are raised above the roof (to optomize angle), there must be a structure surrounding the panels to make them appear integrated into the home. Those $tipulations add a significant cost to a retrofit solar installation project.

So when I heard that a Colorado solar contractor was engaged with the Rock Creek HOA, I was hopeful that the HOA restrictions could be overcome. Things didn’t work out as I initially hoped (see solar HOA), but REC Solar’s engagement with the Rock Creek HOA was the primary reason that I chose them for my project.

Aside from the fact that I perceived REC solar as the knight that would slay the (HOA) dragon for me, they did favorably address all of the questions and concerns that I had about the project:

Question: What is REC Solar’s warranty policy?

There is a 5 year ‘bumper to bumper’ warranty on all contractor supplied materials and services. REC Solar will repair or replace any defective component at their own expense. There is a 5 year warranty on all roofing penetrations made by REC Solar.

The inverter used on my project, a Fronius IG 4000, has a 10 year warranty. The wireless display, which lets you monitor and control the inverter remotely, has a 2 year warranty.

The solar panels used on my project, Koycera KC200GTs, have a 1 year warranty on material and workmanship and a 20 year warranty on power output.

These warranties are very important. IF everything works as advertised, and the roof does not leak, I will have zero maintenance costs for many years. If there is a problem, it will likely be costly and would therefor put a damper on the financial benefits of solar electric power. Aside from the superfluous wireless display, the most probable failure modes are weather (hail) damaging the array, solar panel failure, and inverter failure. Replacing a panel will not be cheap because of significant material (the panel) and labor costs. Similarly, repairing a roof leak will also be costly because solar panels will have to be removed. Hopefully these problems remain purely hypothetical for me.

I was especially concerned about the roof penetrations because our house has a “50 year” lightweight concrete tile roof. Based on the number of cracked tiles seen in the first 3 years of the roof’s life, I harbor no illusions of 50 years. But I am sensitive to the long term impacts of the roof penetrations associated with the solar electric system. Cary relayed a tale about how REC installers had recently received extra training on roof penetrations. He said they had a roof leak on a project done at the uncle? of a REC employee, and the extra training was meant to make sure that such a problem does not happen again.

How does XCEL Energy’s ‘net metering’ program work

XCEL Energy will install a two-way meter (i.e. one that can run forward or backward) when my solar electric power system is commissioned. When my home consumes more electric power than it generates, the meter runs forward. When my home generates more electric power than it consumes, the meter runs backward. My monthly electric bill is based on the meter reading; I pay if the meter has moved forward over the month; if the meter has run backward I do not pay and a credit for my surplus power generation is applied to the next month’s bill. If, at the end of a 12 month period, I have generated more electricity than I have consumed, XCEL will settle up by paying me for the excess power. This payment is made at the wholesale cost of electricity (‘fuel charge’), so I earn much less for the extra unused power than I do for the power that I consume over the course of the year. Because of this aspect of the net metering program, it does not make financial sense to add more solar panels to generate more electricity than you anticipate consuming over a 12 month period.

Are the installers REC Solar employees or are parts of the job subcontracted out?

The installers are all REC Solar employees. I was glad to hear this because, all things being equal, employees are more accountable than subcontractors.

How are the funds from the XCEL Energy rebate handled?

REC Solar charges the customer for the system price, minus the expected rebate amount. REC Solar then collects the rebate money directly from XCEL Energy. On my system, that is effectively a zero interest $19,800 short term loan. That’s a good thing!

Wind: We have had 100 mph plus winds on a few occasions during our 7 years in this home. Will your panel mounting system survive in this environment?

Cary Hayes explained that the length of the screw used to attach the racking to the roof trusses is the primary determinant of how strong of winds the solar panel array can withstand. He said that REC installed systems are engineered to withstand 125 mph winds. He followed this up with an anecdote about REC Solar sending their engineering team from California out to Boulder, Colorado to inspect several of their solar electric installations after a 135 mph wind event. Cary reported that the inspections did not turn up any problems and that ‘nothing had moved’.