When sales reps peddling energy companies ask Jose Flores who he has as his electric provider, he doesn’t miss a beat: “Oh, I’ve got Flores Electric,” he replies cheerfully. And then waits for the inevitable, “Huh?”
Forgive the zeal of the recently converted Houston homeowner.
These days Flores is mighty proud of the 46 solar panels lined up on the roof of his brick, two-story like a bank of flat screen TVs. And then there’s the LED bulbs throughout the interior. And he really loves his new Tesla Powerwalls storing the solar energy from his roof tucked against the back wall of his garage. Those are right next to the plug-in for his wife’s Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan.
He wasn’t always such a green warrior. It was the math that won him over. He’s proud of that too. So much so that on Saturday he opened his house as part of the annual National Solar Tour to encourage others to learn about and ultimately make the switch to solar power. There were roughly 850 open houses nationwide, including nearly 20 in the Houston region.
For his open house, Flores, a plant manager for an ice cream company, put all of his electric bills in a binder to boast how his utility company now owes him money. That’s the way it works: If a customer’s system creates more energy than needed for their home, the utility typically issues a credit or refund. The one Flores likes best is the June 2018 bill from Green Mountain Energy that shows a customer credit of $930. His most recent bill has a $239.47 credit.
It was a pricey endeavor to install all that Earth-saving technology to power a 3,000-square-foot house. When he and his wife bought it in 2006, the house was far from energy efficient even though it was only five years old at the time. The family racked up energy bills in the $300-per-month range during the Houston summers.
So, in 2016 he ran the numbers and took the plunge, installing 46 panels for about $40,000 upfront. But with a 30 percent federal tax credit, he ended up financing around $28,000 – which he expects to pay off in about eight more years.
With what he figures he saves each month it makes the big numbers more palatable. “This is our forever house,” he said. They added the two Tesla Powerwalls just last month at a total cost of $17,000 but they too qualify for a 30 percent tax credit, Flores said. The equipment works like a rechargeable battery pack to store power for later use, especially handy during a run of cloudy days.
About 30 miles away in Missouri City, Timothy Benz was showing off his own Tesla Powerwalls at his solar open house. But his are especially spiffy as they are autographed by Elon Musk. During the roll-out of the product, five going to Houston purchasers were signed by Musk. By chance Benz got two of them.
Benz works at home in information technology. “I have a lot of computers that generate a lot of heat,” he said, “I didn’t want to spend my paycheck on an electric bill. For his 4,000-square-foot house such bills ran upwards of $400 per month.
He, too, waded in slowly. “It took me nine months to pull the trigger,” he said, but ultimately bought 46 panels August 2017 and added the Powerwalls two months ago. He says he has not owed an electric bill in two years. For him it was the cost savings but the idea of sustainability is also important.
Joanna Bordelon, a physicist, was among those who showed up for the Flores open house. She and her husband have wanted to install solar panels, but were told previously their metal roof was not compatible. On a recent bike ride she saw a house with the exact roof she has – and it had solar panels.
“The time has come,” she said, poring over Flores binder of electric bills and peppering him with questions.
Bodelon scoffs at the climate change deniers who say humans have no role. “Science is science,” she says.
Flores, on the other hand, doesn’t get caught up in the politics of it all. When someone starts in on him, he just reaches for his phone. “I show them my bills. That usually does it.”