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Making a difference: CUB helps consumer find solar–and a $0 electric bill

With CUB’s help, Bob Kaplow, a Dundee resident, participated in a solar group-buy program in 2019, and he saved money. 

The program, formerly Solarize Chicagoland, is now called Grow Solar and CUB will help promote it again in 2022. The program is led by CUB and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), with support from Chicagoland county and city partners: the City of Chicago, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Will. A group buy program uses the power of bulk purchasing to make solar more accessible and affordable for home and small-business owners. Grow Solar also facilitates a number of Solar Power Hour presentations for communities across the Chicagoland area. These educational events cover the basics of solar: the financials, your property’s solar readiness and how to participate in the Grow Solar program.

Hi Bob, how did you hear about the Grow Solar Chicago program?

I’ve been interested in installing solar panels for a few years and finally did after learning about the program’s group purchase incentives through a few CUB presentations.

What was the process like? 

Good! I asked for quotes from three other solar vendors, and the group-by program provided the best deal. I secured great federal and state rebates on the solar panels, though those varied in when they’d return and for how much. The system should pay for itself completely in about five to six years. For eight months out of the year last year my electric bill was $0– even factoring in charging for an electric vehicle– thanks to a combination of net metering, hourly pricing (see below) and solar panels.

What advice would you give someone considering the 2022 program?

If you’re interested in buying solar panels for your home, get multiple bids to compare prices. This program was the best deal I found, which made me feel more confident in my decision. 

I prefer buying panels over leasing. Be careful about any programs offering you “free solar” through long-term leases. CUB has done a good job of informing consumers about the variety of options available. (Read a CUB blog on this issue on our Clean Energy page.)

I also really benefited from combining my solar panels with my energy utility’s Hourly Pricing program. That way I’m able to charge my electric vehicle at night and sell electricity to the grid during peak energy hours to offset the costs. 

Were there any unexpected bonuses or surprises to the Grow Solar Chicago program?

My system was set up with a smaller inverter that started clipping sooner than expected after installation. To fix this, the installer upgraded and installed a new inverter at no charge soon after the problems started. Now, I can use a website to read data on my home solar system from my smartphone and I even have room for four additional panels. 

[CUB Note: Clipping occurs when solar energy production is greater than the system’s inverter capacity, so some energy is lost. A small amount of clipping on peak days is expected, though not so frequently or so soon.] 

Would you recommend the program to a friend or family member? 

Absolutely– I had a few friends do the program with me in 2020 and I wouldn’t sell something I didn’t believe in. With the additional capacity on my inverter, I’m looking into adding more panels with the program. My only regret is that I didn’t do this years ago to start saving money sooner.

How has adding solar panels changed the way you look at clean energy?

In my point of view, there are two types of green people– the “save the planet” kind and the “save money” kind. Volunteering with NASA’s Solar System Ambassador program, I’ve been very interested in solar energy for a while now– one of my friends even helped design the solar arrays for several MARS rovers. It wasn’t until I learned about the cost savings available from solar panels that I really took notice and took the plunge. I’ve been a CUB supporter for a few years now, and CUB’s work with the program helped make the program an affordable option with very helpful support and information along the way. 

Thank you for joining us, Bob! We appreciate your support and helpful tips for fellow consumers. If you’re interested in joining the 2022 program, visit the Grow Solar Chicago program website for a list of Solar Power Hour informational events and details on how to participate.