Misadventures in Dominion Virginia Power Solar Billing (Update: Fixed)

If you are following my solar posts, you know that our solar system is doing well and producing enough power for our bills to be negative in sunny months like now. Well, imagine my surprise when I suddenly get a bill of +$95 (on 7/8) instead of about -$40.

Then when I call to complain, they take the bill down and repost a new one with a balance of $240 (on 7/11)!!! Now the bill is so completely messed up that I can’t even begin to describe the nonsense going on.

So be warned. If you get on the solar purchase program where you need two meters, be prepared for some nasty shocks. I’ll keep this post updated with my time wasting battle to be billed correctly.

Update: 7/14 4:30PM: Dominion emailed me a copy of the final corrected bill and it is -30$. Also updated the original post with previous bill dates. I also discovered that Dominion twitter is very responsive.

Stupid Design I – Frigidaire Gallery Dishwasher

frigidaire bad design splash guardI’m hoping to start a series of articles on poorly designed stuff with this article after I noticed that this is the third time the problem has occurred.

Our Frigidaire Gallery dishwasher, supposedly the quietest dishwasher in it’s class (what a joke) had it’s quiet pump die in the first few months and was replaced under warranty with a new one that is noisy beyond belief. But this is not what this rant is about. We mostly time the dishwasher to run while we are asleep so the noise is not a big concern.

After about a year of use, I was really lucky and noticed that a tiny rubber tab called “splash guard” near the bottom inside the dishwasher was ripped. A little bit of Googling led me to find a lot of complaints about leaking dishwashers thanks to that tab breaking. Also the placement of that tab is exactly where the wheels of the bottom tray slide. So basically it is intentionally placed in a way that it will rip and the dishwasher will leak.

So 12$ later, I find myself with a couple of new tabs, which lasted under a year. Essentially 12$-$15 every 6-12 months to fix a design defect in the dishwasher. Thankfully we don’t have other problems that people have with this dishwasher yet.

Getting Solar Panels in Charlottesville

As I write this, our 6.9kW Solar Panel system is almost ready to go, pending Dominion installing a new meter. I’ve written before about the economics of solar power and how they make financial sense even in a state like Virginia with no incentives. I’ll talk about the power production from the panels a little later. First, I’ll go about the shopping process. All prices below are before federal rebate.

Solar Panels

To start with I emailed or called almost every solar installer I could find that worked in Charlottesville – Altenergy, Sigora Solar, Genesis Home and Energy, Solar Connexion, Baker Renewable Energy, Entero Energy and some more that I can’t recall.

I got initial quotes from everyone and they ranged from ballpark estimates of $3.50/W – $5/W installed for a 5kW system. Eventually, after some negotiation and attempting to maximize the system in our budget, I got prices ranging from $2.50/W – $3.10/W from my top three choices based on the responses I received.

The first was Solar Connexion, based out of Blacksburg. Their quote was the highest of the three but they have been in business the longest and offered the longest workmanship warranty on their work. They offered me a choice of various panels from LG Monocrystalline Panels to Chinese Polycrystalline panels. However, they did not do micro-inverters. For slightly over our 3$/W approximate budget, they could give us 20x260W LG Mono panels or 22x240W Trina panels. They wouldn’t do >300W panels because they didn’t want to deal with the larger physical size.

The second was Sigora Solar. They exclusively offered SolarWorld Mono Panels and offered the second longest workmanship warranty. They initially offered 220W Panels and if those suit your need, I’m sure they can get you a fantastic deal on those. But after some negotiation and research, they offered me some very nice 270W Mono panels for a very good price, slightly under the price/W that Solar Connexion offered. They also do not do micro-inverters.

However, we finally ended up going with Genesis Home and Energy because Randy from Genesis was flexible with designing a system in any way we wanted. He offered us the widest possible choice of panels to use with either string or micro-inverters and gave us pricing for both options with various different panels. He was willing to use any top-tier manufacturer panel that was currently available on sale. He managed to find us a great deal on 315W JA Solar panels and came in significantly under the price of the other two. In fact, our price with micro-inverters would have been comparable per Watt with the other two. But thanks to the great deal on the panels, we decided against micro-inverters, instead going for more wattage. Randy also used a PowerOne dual MPPT inverter, instead of a Sunnyboy, which seems to be the most popular choice, because it treats the panels like two independent strings. Even with the SolarWorld 270W mono panels, which friends of ours are also getting from Genesis, their price was well under the other two.

Now that the shopping is done, on to power production from the panels. On average we use about 1200kWh/month (taken from the last one year of data, this is higher than usual thanks to the current insane winter – one year monthly average before this winter was 1030kWh). According to PVWatts, the system will generate about 725kWh/month or 60% – 70 % of our energy usage.

Since we are in the Dominion Solar Purchase Program, our payoff for the panels (using price after Federal rebate) is about 10 years. The chart below assumes that the Solar Purchase program will no longer exist after five years. It assumes 0.7% annual panel output degradation and 3% increase in the price of electricity every year.

If you are considering the Dominion Solar Purchase program, you need to act quickly. They only have about 50kW of additional space in the program as of this writing. If you are unable to get into the Solar Purchase program, the payoff increases to 12 years. Still assuming 0.7% panel degradation and 3% electricity rate increase.

Electric Car Shopping in Virginia

Red 2013 Nissan Leaf This March we leased a new Nissan Leaf as Parchayi’s new car and we got a great deal on a zero down 2 year lease with a car the exact color and trim level she wanted. However getting that wasn’t easy. So here is my guide on shopping for a car, especially if you are in Virginia.

 

  1. Online Chat with all the dealers in your area and anywhere within a 100 mile radius and get initial offers
  2. Send the lowest offer from all of them in a second round to all the dealers asking for the offer being beaten
  3. A lot of dealers will drop out at this point but don’t worry, see step 5
  4. For dealers further away from your house ask for Home delivery (we had to ask for that because we were unsure the Leaf could make it to our house from many of the far away dealers
  5. Wait a day or two now. The managers of all the dealers will send you an email. At this point respond that their dealership wasn’t competitive with the other offers
  6. Now you’ll have price match or beat offers from everyone
  7. Send the lowest offer to everyone again to see who bites

In our case I contacted:

  • Colonial Nissan (local dealer in Charlottesville)
  • Brown’s Fairfax Nissan
  • Priority Nissan of Richmond
  • Pohanka Nissan Fredericksburg
  • Sheehy Nissan of Mechanicsville
  • Nissan of Chantilly

In the first round, to my surprise, Colonial Nissan was the lowest priced dealer. By the time the third round came along, the monthly price of the lease has dropped 90$ from where originally started and the lowest was Pohanka Nissan and they also offered free home delivery.

However, we eventually ended up buying the car form Colonial Nissan because they not only matched the lowest offer, they were the only dealer to offer to find the car with the color and trim we wanted. The had the car shipped from a dealer in Maryland. No other dealer offered anything beyond what they had on their lot.

I also looked at the Ford Focus and did the same with Ford dealers. However the Focus is not competitively priced with the Leaf. Plus our local dealer has no plans to carry the Focus Electric so it felt uncomfortable having a car that possibly couldn’t be serviced locally, especially since it is a first generation car. The Leaf is in it’s third year.