A Community goes solar

Gayler Construction of Danville, Calif. had heard about programs where homeowners had banded together to negotiate reduced prices from solar providers and thought that would be a good fit for their local community.

November 30, 2008

A Community goes solar

The high costs of energy has many home-owners interested in solar, but all too often they get turned off by the high upfront price. With systems that cost thousands of dollars to install, most homeowners are not willing to wait years for payback of the investment.

Gayler Construction of Danville, Calif., found a way to address that concern with a unique community program the company put together earlier this year. Owners Darlene and George Gayler were looking for a community service project for the company to undertake. They had heard about programs where homeowners had banded together to negotiate reduced prices from solar providers and thought that would be a good fit for their local community.

To make it even better, the company was able to strike a deal with solar company SolarCity and banker Morgan Stanley to offer a lease program.

The benefit of a lease program is that it allowed SolarCity, as the owners of the panels, to take advantage of commercial tax credits of 30 percent that aren't available to homeowners, George Gayler says.

“It's a huge tax credit, but you can't get it on residential normally,” Gayler says. “That allowed us to charge no upfront costs (to the homeowner) because the costs were covered by the credit.” Homeowners had to sign a 15-year lease and have the option of purchasing the panels at the end of the lease.

Because there are no upfront costs, the cost savings is immediate for homeowners. The Gaylers had a system installed on their own home and estimate they're saving about $50 a month, a number that will only increase as utility rates go up.

“Over a period of 15 years, I'll probably be saving something like $600, $700 a month, and I'm producing 80 percent of the power I use in my house with clean, green technology,” George Gayler says.

The company signed up almost 40 homes for the program, along with a local church and paper plant, taking the equivalent of 160 homes off the grid, Darlene Gayler says.

The only reasons more people couldn't sign up is that the company ran out of time. Systems have to be installed by the end of this year to qualify for the tax credits that expire this month.

“I would have liked to keep it going,” Darlene Gayler says. “If the rebates come back into effect, I think we'd be able to convince SolarCity to do it again.”

Beyond the energy-saving benefits, the program also ended up earning money for the community. To help close the deal, SolarCity offered Gayler a referral fee for each system. Because the Gaylers had intended the project as community service, they didn't want to accept the money themselves but instead were able to get SolarCity to donate the money to the local Rotary Club, raising nearly $20,000 for local schools.

Private access

For Hurst Design-Build-Remodeling, using private online project tracking software for its clients has made projects run more smoothly and helped the company land more jobs.

For about three years, the Middleburg Heights, Ohio, company has been using My Design/Build Project, a Web-based software solution that allows remodelers to offer clients password-protected sites dedicated to their specific project.

"We were looking for a difference maker," says Vice President Patrick Hurst. "We had seen log-in sections with other companies, particularly large commercial companies. We thought it'd be great if we had something like that, because nobody we compete with does.

By keeping all the documents and plans in one place, it makes it easier to communicate with clients without having to have a face-to-face meeting, a benefit for many busy homeowners. The company can also show the system off to potential clients, which helps them seem more tech savvy. It gets homeowners, especially younger ones, excited about working with the company, Hurst says.

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