Dreaming of the Sun

zoomed in on solar panels on the roof of a residential home, blue skies with minimal clouds above the house

As the days get longer, the sun is on our minds. You may be wondering if solar energy is right for you.

Here are answers to the frequently asked questions we receive from members considering a solar photovoltaic system investment.

How Much Electricity Can I Generate?

This depends on several factors. The first is the size of your system. You can determine how much electricity you want to produce, then size your system accordingly. You can start small and add on. A system that will generate 100% of your energy needs is expensive with the risk of producing more energy than you use and not getting your return on investment.

Second, it depends on your location. If you have a shade-free area from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., you’ll be able to collect more sun and produce more energy than if your site is shaded.

Will Benton REA Buy Any Excess Energy I Produce?

Grid connected PV systems are connected to Benton REA’s power lines. That means electricity can flow both ways—to your home from your cooperative, and from your PV system back to the electrical grid.

Particularly on sunny days when your energy use may be low, your system may produce excess energy that can flow back to the grid. This excess is measured at your electric meter and held in a bank for you to use throughout the year. If you do not use all of it at the end of the year, Benton REA does not purchase the excess power you generated. This is why it is important to not oversize your solar PV system.

How Long Is the Payback Period?

The payback period can range from 10 to more than 30 years, depending on system costs, available rebates, tax credits and incentives, the amount of electricity produced and the retail price of electricity you purchase.

How Long Do Solar PV Systems Last?

Certified PV products and systems generally are reliable, with a life expectancy of about 30 years. Manufacturers test PV panels for hail impact, high wind, and freeze-thaw cycles to represent real-life situations.

Most manufacturers offer 20- to 25-year warranties for panels. Extended warranties may be available at an extra cost.

Little maintenance is required. Occasionally it may be necessary to rinse modules with water to remove dust and grime.

Other components such as inverters may have a shorter life. PV panels may outlast the roof they are attached to. Make sure your roof is in good shape or budget for replacement during the life of the system.

What Happens With a Solar PV System at Night and on Cloudy Days?

Battery-backed or grid-independent systems use on-site energy storage to store excess energy produced during the day for use at night or when the sun is not producing enough power. Choosing this option will add significant cost and maintenance to your system.

Most people opt for grid-connected systems for reduced cost and maintenance, plus high reliability. With this type of system, Benton REA continues to provide energy to you when you need it. Your PV system will produce energy, and even excess energy, on sunny days. You will continue to draw electricity from Benton REA at night and on cloudy days.

What Happens With a Solar PV System During Power Outages?

Most grid-connected PV systems shut down to prevent back-feeding electricity into de-energized power lines that may have fallen or that line crew members may be working on. It’s important to have this shut-down feature to prevent injuries—and even death—to those working on the line.

Are There Incentives or Tax Credits for Installing Solar PV Systems?

Yes, but they are limited. A federal tax credit of 26% is available. Be sure to consult with your financial and tax advisor as this may change annually.

As of March 1, 2022, the Washington State University Energy Program cap has been met for Benton REA members and there are no state incentive dollars left. Residential and commercial incentives are subject to change at any time. Contact Benton REA at 509-781-6752 for current program details.

How Do I Get Started?

Before choosing a solar system, be sure that your home is as energy efficient as possible. Investing in energy efficiency provides a faster return on your investment. Reducing your overall energy use may reduce the size of PV system you will need saving you money on both ends. 

Make sure your roof is in tip-top shape. If yours is older, you may need to repair or replace it before installing solar. A solar PV system may last up to 30 years, so be sure your roof will last, too.

Research solar contractors thoroughly before investing in a system. Get at least three quotes before choosing one. Work closely with Benton REA for advice and assistance on interconnecting with the grid.  Request the history of your energy use to help you size your system and evaluate savings. Co-op staff has experience working with other member-owners and solar contractors. Call Benton REA at 509-781-6752.


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