Solano Real Estate Scene: Solar technology keeps improving

I was out at the golf course last week and one of the guys who plays in our weekly game was telling us about his solar. When all his neighbors were pitch black last month, his home remained lit up like a Christmas tree. I think he went for a top-of-the-line, $50,000-plus system that not only eliminates his electricity bill and got him a 30 percent tax credit, the system came with some type of energy storage system that allowed his electricity to remain on during the PG&E power outage. Unlike video cassette recorders that became extinct when the CD player was invented in 1995, solar looks like it is here to stay. My company awarded me with a VCR in 1980 as a bonus valued at more than $1,200. By 1990, a better version of the same VCR was selling for less than $200 and hundreds of electronics companies were making them. Solar has exploded in the country and is now a $20 billion per year industry with more than 250,000 people employed in the field and 10,000 companies in all 50 states. Solar panels have been around since 1973 but the business has blasted off in the past 10 years because of the push for green energy and the cost of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. bills for homeowners. I do not have solar on my house but many of my clients and friends do and so although I cannot endorse any specific company today, I can tell my readers and clients that doing your homework is required. Many solar companies have gone out of business over the past 10 years and I am sure some are better than others today. One thing is for sure, the technology has improved over the past 10 years. A lot of my tech-savvy friends have installed solar and love the technology and are convinced that the benefits outweigh the cost. It seems complicated to me but keep in mind, I am one of those guys who called my brother in 1980 to set up my VCR and today need my tech-savvy kids to help me install a new TV or an app on my phone. I better get with it and investigate solar because my PG&E bill is $500 per month and it looks like the big tax credit might be ending one of these years. Finally, financing your purchase is critical and purchasing versus renting or leasing needs to be discussed with your tax and financial adviser. If you cannot pay cash, then finance your system at the best rate possible via a home equity line of credit or a fixed-rate second mortgage with as little fees as possible. Do not accept the solar dealer’s financing without making 100 percent sure you are clear on the terms, the rate and the fees. I wrote a detailed column last year about PACE and all the finance companies that use PACE as a method of securing their financing for energy improvements by an assessment on the homeowner’s property tax bill at an interest rate of 8.35 percent with a 5 percent fee. A HELOC at your credit union is adjustable at prime rate with practically no fees for folks with home equity and a FICO score above 680.