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Great Solar Panel Debate: To Lease Or To Buy?

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To Lease or To Buy - Solar Panels - NPR News

Elizabeth Ebinger in Maplewood, N.J., bought her solar panels, while neighbor Tim Roebuck signed a 20-year lease. Both are happy with the approach they took, and both are saving money on energy bills. Jeff Brady/NPR

More than 600,000 homes in the U.S. have solar panels today — up dramatically from just a few years ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Leasing programs that require little or no money up-front have played a key role in that growth.

But here’s a question for homeowners: Is it better to lease or buy?

In Maplewood, in northern New Jersey, two next-door neighbors with similar houses arrived at different answers. Elizabeth Ebinger bought her panels — while Tim Roebuck signed a 20-year lease.

Ebinger says she enjoys the nitty-gritty of owning solar panels, from figuring out her eligibility for government incentives to crunching the numbers. “I have to confess that I do maintain a spreadsheet that analyzes the details of our expenses and our payback,” Ebinger says.

She pulls out a smartphone and brings up her spreadsheet.

She paid about $35,000 for her system. She then received a 30 percent federal tax credit that brought the cost down right away. Then there’s the savings on her utility bill each month.

And there’s another benefit: Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECs. She sells them to power companies that are required to get some of their electricity from renewable sources. Every time she accumulates 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy, she can sell one certificate. The price fluctuates, but it’s currently around $200. She sells about seven of these a year.


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