Boulder family of four has an $8 electric bill—here’s how they do it

Written By Tina Boniface

On January 14, 2016

At a Glance:

Read our latest customer interview with Boulder solar homeowner Will Toor as he discussed his fully grid-tied 2.87-kilowatt solar power system installed by Independent Power Systems.

The Toor family’s Boulder home is a model of energy efficiency. Its walls and roof are well insulated; there is a solar thermal system on the south-facing roof that provides all the hot water; heat is partially provided by a wood stove. Their electricity is fully provided by a grid-tied 2.87 kW solar PV system. The family owns a single small car that they’ve driven for over twenty years. They are dedicated bicycle commuters. Luckily, they live in a town with excellent bike lanes.

bike lanes on street(Photo: Ryan Haarer, KUSA)

I recently spoke with Will about his system.

How long have you had your PV system?

I believe mine is one of the oldest grid-tied solar systems in Colorado. It has been almost ten years since my system was installed – in early 2006.

Why did you decide to go solar, and why at the particular time that you did?

My wife and I were concerned about the environmental impact of our electricity use. And Colorado, especially at that time, had a heavily coal-based electric system pumping a lot of global warming pollution into the atmosphere, so I wanted to move to carbon-free electricity. And the timing was perfect as Colorado voters had just the year before passed Amendment 37 which required utilities to provide rebates for residential solar.

What were your goals and expectations for your PV system? Have they been met?

The originally installed 1.67 kW system produced a significant portion of the electricity that we used. Then a financing opportunity allowed us to expand the system. We added 1.2 kW and that got us to beyond net-zero electricity so our meter has run backward every year since then. That was our expectation and it was certainly met.

Has having a PV system on your house been a satisfactory experience for you?

Yes, we have been very happy with our solar system. We basically have no maintenance to do and pay no electric bill beyond the $8.50 monthly fixed charge, and we know that our electricity use is not contributing to climate change. What’s not to like?

Have there been any issues? If so, were they resolved?

We’ve had virtually no issues with the system. When it was first put in, we were one of the first solar customers that the utility Xcel Energy had, so initially it took a few months for them to figure it out. We had one moment where the utility sent us an $8,000 electric bill! Back then they didn’t know how to read our meter, which was running backward, and they mistakenly read it as having gone all the way around, 100,000 kW hours. So yes, ten years ago there were a few things the utility had to figure out, but since then it has been problem-free. The only time we ever had to do anything was when the system was first installed we had a problem with the inverter, but IPS promptly came out and replaced the inverter at no cost. That one has been trouble-free. We go out back from time to time and watch the meter run backward.

Why did you select this particular site, the old shed in the back of the house, for your PV installation?

We have a couple of trees that throw some shading on the house so it’s not a totally optimal site for solar. There was enough room on the house roof for a solar thermal system which we wanted. The backyard shed was kind of perfect for panels as it has a large south-facing roof and very little shading from trees.

As for the squirrel guard, there are very active squirrels around here. They ate a hammock and a couch and we didn’t want them to eat the panel wires. We’re very happy IPS insisted on installing the squirrel guard.

Editor’s note: Squirrel Guard is an exclusive Independent Power Systems offering that protects a solar array and connecting wires from animal damage. It extends life and maintains the aesthetic of the solar array over a long amount of time. Learn more about squirrel guard by contacting one of our design consultants.

What, if any, ongoing costs related to the system have you had to deal with?

There are no ongoing costs. We pay $8.50 / month to our utility for their monthly fixed cost. That is our total electric bill.

Has the weather ever been an issue? How have your solar panels held up in severe weather?

No weather issues. Of course, snow covers the panels at times, but it melts off quickly in the sunshine. There has been no hail damage even though there have been some humongous hail storms. Even my son’s baseball playing in the back yard has never damaged a panel.

ground-mounted solar system

Would you recommend IPS to others?

We would happily recommend IPS. The system has worked well and the customer service was great.

System Specifications:

  • 2.87 kW PV Array
  • (10) 167 Watt Kyocera Panels & (8) SunPower 150 Watt Panels
  • Total Output: 27,500 kWh
  • 46,000 lbs (23 tons) of greenhouse gases saved
    • This is equivalent to:*
    • Preventing the burning of 11 tons of coal
    • Planting 54 trees
    • Preventing the consumption of 49 barrels of oil

About Will Toor

Will is a longtime Boulder resident who served as Mayor of Boulder from 1998 – 2004 and County Commissioner from 2005 – 2012. He is currently the director of the transportation program at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

*Equivalency calculations are derived from information provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dan Perata

About the Author

Tina Boniface loves to travel, and has worked with people of all ages and cultures in her many journeys. She is a skilled communicator with nearly two decades worth of experience teaching ESL at various American colleges and universities as well as extensive social media and editorial experience. She is fluent in English and French, with intermediate proficiency in Spanish, Italian, and German. In her free time, Tina enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, reading extensively, cooking, eating, and practicing yoga.  

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