After he got solar panels on the roof of his house in Bridgewater a couple years back, Mark Rathke’s electric bill went down from about $150 each month to just $15 a month.
And that allows him to turn up the volume on the head-banging heavy metal tunes that he’s loved ever since high school guilt free. Almost.
Of course, he has to consider is the eardrums of his wife and 14-year-old daughter. And so far, they’ve been pretty understanding about dad’s need to enter a world of thrashing guitars and rapid-fire drumming now and then.
With solar, Mark can now crank up the juice on Tourniquet, Megadeth and Sanctuary without having to worry about cranking up his electric bill too.
“Actually, the $15 is just the fee that our utility, the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, charges us to stay connected to the grid,” Mark says. “Once you consider the solar power we sell back to them, we don’t need to buy any electricity from the coop at all.”
The local utility was helpful and even encouraging when Mark wanted to attach his solar system to the grid.
“The cooperative was good to work with. They did a radio campaign to encourage conservation because, when people are using a lot of electricity, they have to buy power off the spot market, which is expensive,” Mark explains. “They may even get their own solar in the future.”
Solar with No Money Down
Though he likes his power company, Mark likes making his own electricity more. Indeed, Mark has been a fan of solar almost as long as he’s been a fan of heavy metal.
In 2001, he built his home, which is located in a quiet residential neighborhood in the historic town of Bridgewater in the Shenandoah Valley, just a few minutes south of Harrisonburg. The house happened to have a south-facing roof, but solar was too expensive for Mark to add it to the house at that time.
He heard that solar for no money down was available from SolarCity and other companies in other states through special financing. To his disappointment, it turned out that this type of financing wasn’t available in Virginia. Since Mark didn’t want to make a big upfront investment, he decided to wait until costs came down further.
A few years later, Mark heard more news about solar, that the price had in fact come down significantly. But still, he didn’t want to have to make a big cash outlay to get a solar system.
So he came up with an idea. He had already gotten a line of credit to take advantage of some of the equity in his home. Could the bank also offer him financing so that he could get solar with no money down?
This time, the news was good. His bank was willing to finance the entire cost of a solar system for Mark’s home at an attractive interest rate with no money down. Then, Mark shopped around for solar installers and got the best quote from Main Street Solar, which Mark accepted.
Main Street put 42 German-made high-efficiency solar panels up on his roof for a total capacity of 10.5 kilowatts — all the power that Mark and his family needed.
Even including Mark’s booming stereo system.
Cutting the Cost for Solar Panels Required
“I’m extremely happy with Main Street Solar,” Mark says.
The company went above and beyond installing solar, as Mark explains. When Main Street CEO Andrew Brenner came by for a site visit, he didn’t just look at the roof and the electrical connections. He also inspected the major appliances in Mark’s house that use energy, to make sure they were functioning most efficiently.
From my knowledge of our Main Street colleague Andrew, this doesn’t surprise me — he’s got a lot of experience looking for ways to save energy. Anyway, at Mark’s place, Andrew focused on the hot water heater.
“Andrew told me that I could save a lot of energy, and get by with a smaller solar system, if I installed a timer on my hot water heater,” Mark says. “He even offered to do it for me for only $100. That’s a true testament to Main Street Solar. They don’t just want to sell solar panels. They want to do what’s best for the customer.”
With the home equity line of credit from his bank, Mark got solar on his roof for no money down. And, each month, his loan payment is less than his former electric bill, which means he started saving money with solar right away.
Once his loan is paid off in ten years, then all of Mark’s electricity will be essentially free for the life of his solar system. His solar panels have a 25-year warranty, but we expect them to keep cranking out power at a high rate for 30 years or more. That means many years of free power for Mark and his family.
Paying for College with Solar Savings
And speaking of Mark’s family, solar is also going to help send his daughter to college.
In his monthly calculations of solar savings, Mark didn’t include the 30% federal tax credit which all homeowners around the country and in Virginia qualify for when they install solar.
“All the money from the tax credit will go straight into my daughter’s college fund,” Mark says.
And the thought of that college fund growing has got to make the sound of dad’s Stryper albums a bit sweeter to his daughter’s ears.
Mark’s advice to a Virginia homeowner who’s thinking of going solar?
“People with no budget whatsoever can do this,” he says. “As long as you own your own home, then you’re the perfect person to go solar. Just check with your bank.”
Mark is so happy with his solar solar system that he’s thinking of getting batteries in the future so that he can back up his power or even go totally off-grid.
In the meantime, Mark’s got some rocking out to do.
— Alan Brenner, Main Street Solar