You’d think in this time of “green” everything and climate change, in a state where liberal do-gooders hate oil and coal and love solar, that it would be easier to go solar. Last September, I wrote about our solar power struggles to that point, but little did I know that our struggles were only just beginning.
To recap: In February 2017, I responded to a Google promotion that connected me with several different solar providers who provided some initial information. I selected Vivint, but we hit a snag and so I turned to Solar City (which has since become Tesla). That was in June, 2017. We had some back and forth over the summer getting the system designed and paperwork completed and by September, we had a signed agreement.
But then we hit a snag. National Grid wanted us to pay to upgrade the local transformer for more capacity. Since the Tesla business model is to lease the panels to me at a fixed rate and then sell excess electrical power back to the utility to offset nighttime draw from them, the local transformer has to be able to accommodate more power than usual. And because there were already several solar installations in my neighborhood, my installation would put it over the top. So National Grid wanted $3,500 for the new transformer. From my point of view, the new transformer benefits National Grid (upgrading their infrastructure) and Tesla (so they and other solar companies can sell more installs in my neighborhood), so why should I be expected to subsidize multi-million and billion dollar corporations? So I told Tesla that they had to pay for it and if they didn’t, I was walking away.
Tesla agreed without much hesitation, but then National Grid said it would take 12-28 weeks to get it done. Care to guess how long it took? Yes, six months. Which seems to be par for the course as in everything having to do with the utility took the long end of the estimate or more. (You can see my previous blog post on this situation here.)
We finally had our install scheduled for Wednesday, March 14, but we had a blizzard that postponed it for a week. But than another snag: My roof has a bit of a sag in it and therefore they couldn’t install panels on one section so they had to redesign the install and rearrange where the panels would go. I had to contact them several times to nudge them forward, but we finally got installation done in April.
Then we had to wait for the town electrical inspector to come. Then two weeks later I had to email Tesla again about getting Permission To Operate (PTO) from National Grid. Finally, I was told that our application was submitted to the utility on May 24 and that I should expect PTO around July 5. I finally called Tesla July 9, but they said they would contact their team that deals with the utilities. Heard nothing for another week. Another email. Another nothing response. This went on until the beginning of August, when I started doing my own research to see if there are any standards or regulations for how long National Grid could delay in giving PTO.
After all, it’s in their best interests to delay. Without solar, I’m paying NG $300 per month for electricity, but with solar that will drop to as close as zero as I can make it. Every month they delay is more money for them. Frankly, there should be a third-party entity who administers all this to avoid conflict of interest.
Waiting is the hardest part
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Report (page 16) the median number of days for PTO across all 50 states is 10 days. New York, Colorado, and New Jersey have specific timeline regulations which result in PTO in 5, 10, or 20 days, while California has a statutory requirement that requires PTO within 30 days. And even including those applications that exceed the requirements, National Grid’s delay in approving my application far exceeded the median in all of those states. For my installation it was nearly 90 days before PTO!
So I called the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and talked to a very helpful lawyer in their solar utilities office who let me know about my rights and a dispute resolution process, which unfortunately would only kick in once I got to the vice-president level at NG without satisfaction. I was hoping to not have to do that.
But in further googling, I found an email address for National Grid’s team in charge of relations with commercial solar panel facilities and dropped them an email out of the blue. They forwarded it to the correct department, who emailed me back to say that the holdup was that they required a plastic warning placard on the outside cut-off switch the solar panels and Tesla used a sticker and were waiting for Tesla to fix it.
So I lost the entire summer of solar production, the prime months, because someone at National Grid either failed to report this to Tesla or someone at Tesla failed to have this change implemented. And the only reason it got fixed was because I—the customer—did the legwork between the two big corporations to get it done. So finally, a Tesla guy came out to replace the sticker with a placard and then about a week later NG came out to replace the old electrical meter with a new one that can measure both electrical draw and production.
Of course, even that wasn’t smooth. I’m not supposed to turn the system on until the new meter is in place, but I received an email from Tesla saying I could turn the system on, so I did. And then a couple days later, an NG guy showed up while I wasn’t home and replaced the meter (turning off the power to the house without me being to shut down my computer equipment properly).
In the end, after more than a year of waiting for the install and nearly 5 months with solar panels sitting on my roof doing nothing for me, we are finally running on solar power.
I don’t intend to let this drop like this. I am going to ask for some months of compensation from Tesla to cover for the extra funds I spent on electricity while waiting.
All that said, would I recommend others to go solar? Perhaps you may be surprised, but yes I would. I know that my experience is atypical. My brother had SolarCity panels installed several years ago and has been quite happy with it. He was shocked at my difficulties in fact. If you have a different electrical utility, they may not be as drag-foot as National Grid, and even if you have National Grid, too, you probably won’t need a new transformer in your neighborhood.
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