In Part One of this series, we explored some basic reasons for choosing between solar leasing, owning, and gardening. In Part Two, we dove deeper into the financial reasons behind this decision. In this Part Three, we’ll summarize the comparison in order to help you and your network make informed decisions around home solar. Although we acknowledge that not every option will be available in all parts of Colorado, we foresee that available options will grow – not shrink – and hope to inform consumers both for the present and future.
For some, the decision to lease, purchase, or garden may primarily be non-financial. If you want to own your own rooftop solar PV array, for example, you will want to make a cash purchase or acquire a loan through a solar provider or traditional lender. If you’re the type of person who appreciates the ease of a transaction, a solar loan (through a solar provider), lease, or community solar garden (CSG) garden share may appeal to you whereas working with a lender may not. Just keep in mind that solar leases and CSG subscriptions may result in additional paperwork with your solar provider should you sell your home. If you don’t want to worry about maintaining your system in case something fails (although that is rare), a lease, 20-year solar loan (since maintenance is typically provided for the duration of the solar loan term), or garden share would work best for you. If claiming that the electricity generated by the solar array is reducing your specific carbon footprint is important to you, you’ll need to own a system as well as its Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Or if you just D.W.T.D. (don’t want to deal), a garden share offers the benefits of solar without many of the hassles and without having to even look at the darn thing!
For others, the decision to lease, purchase, or garden may primarily be financial. If this is the case, your choice will depend on the specific prices and financing arrangements available to you. When CSGs were first built, they were often not as financially attractive as ownership or leasing models. That is starting to shift and in some cases CSG shares can net a greater return on investment than owning or leasing. Related to this, there are a number of articles that argue in favor of owning versus leasing when it comes to the financial cost-benefit. Although this may be true some of the time, it’s not always that clear cut when accounting for inverter replacements or the fact that money now is worth more than money later. On the other hand, it is undeniable that owning panels will allow you to sell a home for more (how much more will be determined by local market conditions), whereas selling a home with leased panels may not add much value. And after a lease or CSG term ends (typically 20 years), you will have to re-up your contract to continue to reap the financial benefits.
For many of us, the decision on which solar option to choose will include a mix of financial and non-financial considerations. We may be willing to take on some burden of paperwork or time for a better financial deal. Or we may be lucky to find that the easiest transaction is also the most cost-effective! It would be nice if we could provide you with clear, definite answers that would hold up across the state in all situations, but the reality is that the choice is complicated. So do your homework, check out the resources on this site, Ask an Expert, and interact with peers to help you through it.