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From the ‘How-To’ Files: Catch Some Rays!

It's a good time for solar energy. Globally, according to the National Geographic’s energy e-newsletter, “solar energy use has surged at about 20% a year for the last 15 years, thanks to rapidly falling prices and gains in efficiency.”

Closer to home, fifty thousand Americans built a solar system in 2011. They figured out that solar energy could lower their utility bills and help the environment.

There's another benefit that you may not know about yet: going solar could yield a donation to the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, as well as a $750.00 instant rebate for you. This is the arrangement with the Sierra Club’s solar partner, Sungevity: lease or purchase a solar system for your home and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club gets a $750.00 donation - you get a $750.00 gift card.

Sound simple? It is.  But being savvy about going solar is, well, a bright idea. As the song goes, you must start at the very beginning:

  • Make sure you have proper weatherization measures, energy efficient lighting, and other energy conservation measures in place to reduce the amount of electricity you use. This will help make sure your solar system is “right-sized” and not more than you need, plus it is the most cost-effective way to reduce the need for more electricity generation.
  • Get your free solar system quote from Sungevity.
  • Request at least two more quotes from other companies. Which companies?  One way to narrow it down is to see if your utility (or another one in your area) has a qualified solar installer list – then do some additional research to boost your solar IQ:
    • Find out how many years of experience a prospective installer has with electrical contracting in Arizona; 
    • Ask how many years of experience the company has with roofing; 
    • Determine whether the companies you’re considering actually hire and train their employees, or whether they subcontract the design or installation of solar systems;
  • Research installers’ Better Business Bureau ratings, their Arizona Registrar of Contractors’ complaints, their status on Angie’s List, and/or on Ripoff Report.
  • Once you have at least three quotes, review them carefully - if you don’t understand something, do both of these things:
    • Contact the company to get clarity on the information they’ve presented; and
    • Go to and get the help of one of their solar ambassadors or their solar coach – they are an invaluable resource and, as an impartial non-profit, they help consumers cut to the chase!

Next steps:

  • Sign your contract and make any deposits or progress payments, as applicable.
  • Installer then helps you with a utility incentive reservation (expect to sign several documents), if applicable.
  • Installer develops engineering designs for your solar system and requests appropriate permits from the city/county – a reputable installer will ask for you to review these designs before submitting them to the city/county.
  • Installer will submit an interconnect application to your utility as well – most likely that application will include the set of plans approved by both you and the city/county.
  • The utility will give approval to the installation.
  • The job will be completed.
  • The city/county will issue a green tag or photovoltaic clearance.
  • The city/county will provide this to your utility company.
  • The utility company will give you a bi-directional meter (so that they can track the excess power you are selling them);
  • Your utility will also perform a compliance check before you can turn your solar system on – expect a several week wait, depending upon the utility.
  • The solar system will be cleared to operate by your utility, and your installer will help you submit all final documentation to the utility, if applicable.

Last thoughts, and then you’re on your way.  The good news is that Arizona has explicitly protected solar installation from the aesthetic whimsies of homeowner’s associations (HOAs).  The not-so-great news is that HOAs can still impose a review process and require approval of your solar system’s design. The fix? Find out if your HOA has guidelines for solar installations, and be sure to get an HOA approval under way before you sign a contract with any installation company – HOA reviews can take some time. Finally, be clear on utility requirements. Even if you decide to lease a solar system, most Arizona utilities will require you to sign a 20-year interconnection agreement.  Review a sample copy of your utility’s standard interconnection agreement (leased systems) and/or the credit purchase and interconnection agreement (purchased systems), and that you understand the terms you’re signing – the installer, the utility, and even a solar coach at should be able to help you with this step.

Have more questions?  Please contact the Sierra Club at 602-253-8633 or  And have fun going solar


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Are you interested in learning more about energy issues in Arizona and ways to get involved?

Visit our Energy Page.

Consider participating in our Energy Group meetings and activities! We meet on the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m.  Contact Jon Findley for details at (480) 756-2916 or

Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter, 202 E. McDowell Rd, Suite 277, Phoenix, AZ 85004, (602) 253-8633

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