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Homeowners jump into solar power projects over savings hype

Solar savings promises don’t always deliver
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Posted at 2:54 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 18:29:44-05

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Epifanio Ortiz said the solar panel salesman made big promises about their power bill.

“He told us our bill would be $81 a month,” Ortiz said.

He financed the $26,000 system figuring that over the years it would pay for itself by slashing his power bill.

The contractor installed the panels in June 2021. By October, Epifanio said his bill remained unchanged at around $130 to $140 a month. He worried there was something wrong with his system or the company had exaggerated the cost savings.

Epifanio reached out to Taking Action Reporter Jackie Callaway who asked Lakeland Electric Energy Analyst Kevin Jones to inspect the newly installed solar system at the Ortiz home.

The inspection found the solar panels in good working order. The energy audit confirmed the panels are producing electricity. So why are the family’s bills running about the same as they were a year ago? Jones says the system is small plus the family usage at peak times triggered a $52 monthly “demand fee.”

Lakeland Electric showed Epifanio how to cut his peak usage by setting timers on the pool and water heater to run during low-demand times.

The amount of energy a system produces is also dependent on the time of year. Home solar systems are not able to operate at peak times in the summer and early fall because of rain and clouds. But in December the panels hit peak performance thanks to the number of sunny days Florida sees between November and March. That means the Ortiz family should see more savings on their very next bill.

For Epifanio, the energy audit was an eye-opener. He's looking forward to racking up some savings.

If you are thinking of investing in a solar system, don’t rely on a salesperson’s savings estimates. First, contact your power provider and schedule a home energy audit. That can determine what you can tweak right now to save money on your power bill and just how much impact a solar system might make.