Company News

Phil, Anne and Jackson Starr owners of Sierra Starr Winery pictured at their end of the year sparking wine event

Phil Starr is a big fan of solar. Starr is owner, along with his wife Anne and son Jackson, of Sierra Starr Winery.

“We’ve had solar at the vineyard and winery for just about a year longer than downtown,” he said.

And it’s been just about a year since Starr called on California Solar Electric Company (Cal Solar) to install the commercial solar array at the downtown Grass Valley tasting room.

“It was a business and a conscious decision,” Starr said. “I’ve always kind of felt mistreated with the price we pay for energy. It’s very difficult to cut the cord, so-to-speak. I looked into wind as well, not so much for downtown, but I don’t think it was quite enough. The best option was to have solar at both locations.”

Starr has four meters at the vineyard and winery, that includes the well and house. “The first year we owed $881 for the year with solar,” he said. “It would have been between $13,000 and $17,000 without it.”

Starr is looking forward to the end of November, the one-year anniversary of the solar installation at the tasting room.

“We’ll know we sized it correctly based on our usage,” he said. “We expect we won’t owe PG&E any money. If the system is too large, PG&E pays us a little.” Starr reiterated that sizing the installation is important. And he is confident in the expertise of the Cal Solar staff.

Reid England, Lead Solar Electrician

“I’m very happy with Cal Solar,” he said. “The process was fine, it was relatively painless. They do all the interaction with the city or county. They handle all of those details that tend to be pretty painful for individuals to do.”

Starr also gave high praise to the installation crew.

“The head of the crew: Reid England, was very knowledgeable, a very nice person,” he said. “I’m very happy with the work they did and the interaction. I’m very happy with all the Cal Solar folks.”

Another benefit is that the solar array is not in view from the street. “Customers don’t even know it’s there,” Starr said.

Overall, Starr recommends solar and Cal Solar. “I absolutely would recommend Cal Solar and I have done so.”

With 2019 fast approaching, and decreasing tax credits on the horizon, now is the time to schedule your free feasibility survey with Cal Solar.

We have all the information you’ll need on solar, including important details on the federal tax credits and special financing. While deadlines are seasons away, booking now to discuss solar options is a smart first step.

Due to the looming tax credit deadline, “It is anticipated that at the end of next year every solar company is going to be booked out and extremely busy,” said Martin Webb, Commercial Sales Manager with Cal Solar and a solar professional for 20 years. “It’s never too early to start looking at solar and plan for a project next year to beat the rush.” Webb said it is also important to check with your tax professional for clarification on how the credit may apply to you.

Homeowner Jay Schwabe is a proponent of solar and recently had a new home system installed by Cal Solar. “I worked for 36 years for Philips Medical as a field engineer installing CAT scanners and MRI machines, so I have a lot of experience with electrical and mechanical repair,” he said.

Schwabe’s neighbors had solar on their roof and recommended Cal Solar. “I called Rob Totoonchie [Residential Sales Manager] at Cal Solar for a quote,” Schwabe said. “He came out, took shade reports from the roof from four locations and presented a quote a few days later. The entire process was extremely easy and fast. Hint: Let the experts do it!

“There was a recent IRS ruling stating that commercial installations don’t have to be completed in the calendar year to get that specific calendar year’s higher level of tax credit,” Webb said. “The project just has to have been started – or at least incurred 5 percent of the project cost – in that calendar year to get that year’s higher tax credit … As long as the project is completed before 2024.”

Where the residential tax credit cannot be used: Rentals.
The residential tax credit is only good for homes where the taxpayer lives. It doesn’t have to be the primary residence, so a vacation home or a second home qualifies, but it does have to be a home where the taxpayer lives. So if someone owns a rental home as a landlord and wants to put solar on it, then the residential tax credit cannot be used, since they don’t live there, the tenant does. The only way a property owner can have a rental qualify is if they structure their rental income as an LLC or corporation, and then they claim the 30% commercial tax credit.

Where the commercial tax credit cannot be used: Nonprofits.
No taxes are paid from churches, schools, government buildings, fire stations, parks, and other nonprofits, so the tax credit cannot be captured by those types of groups.

“That’s why there are new financing outfits geared towards helping nonprofits go solar,” Webb said. “[The finance company] will own the system for the first few years, capture all the tax benefits, and then pass some of them through to the nonprofit in the form of lower monthly payments. After six years, the lender has exhausted all the tax benefits, so at that point they turn full system ownership over to the nonprofit.

“So nonprofits can now get some of the tax credit value that they used to have to pass up, by letting someone else own the system for the first few years,” Webb explains. “It’s like lease-to-own in a way. Most of our recent commercial jobs have been nonprofits – churches, fire departments, public parks – where a third party gets the tax credit and shares that savings with the nonprofit. Whether commercial, nonprofit, or residential, with our special financing you can still capture that value somehow.”

Clean and green
Solar is clean energy, and most solar loan payments are lower than your PG&E bill. With the current 30% tax credit and $0-down financing, you can now free up the extra money that you typically send to an out-of-town energy company.

Schwabe received an email from PG&E on July 17, 2017 allowing him to turn on his solar system and start producing electricity.

“Exactly 13 months later, August 17, we reached a milestone when the production of electricity reached 10,000 kilowatt-hours,” Schwabe said. “More than I expected, but pleasantly surprised. Rob had predicted about 8,500 kWh in one year and we produced almost 8,900 kWh. As it turned out, we had a very small surplus, and after 365 days, our PG&E bill was minus $30. Pretty cool to get money back after one year.”

Get a quote from Cal Solar today to take advantage of the tax credit.


Tax Credits By The Numbers

Residential Federal Tax Credit, By Year
For solar electric or solar water heating systems:
– 30% for systems “placed in service by” 12/31/2019
– 26% for systems “placed in service by” 12/31/2020
– 22% for systems “placed in service by” 12/31/2021
– No residential tax credit after 2021
Note: Home being served by solar does not have to be your primary residence.

Commercial Federal Tax Credit, By Year
For solar electric or solar water heating systems:
– 30% if “starting construction by” 12/31/2019 and system “placed in service by” 12/31/23
– 26% if “starting construction by” 12/31/2020 and system “placed in service by” 12/31/23
– 22% if “starting construction by” 12/31/2021 and system “placed in service by” 12/31/23
– 10% for systems “starting construction after” 2021
Note: Excess commercial tax credit value can be carried forward 20 years.

– Source: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

When Travis Davis isn’t out soaking up the sun, he’s helping others do it in their homes as part of the residential design team with California Solar Electric Company (CSEC) in Grass Valley.

On staff since May of 2017, Travis meets with residential clients at their home.

“It’s fun I get to help people feel comfortable with something I believe in: solar energy,” he said. “Every single person at Cal Solar… I consider them all friends. It’s such an awesome place to work. On weekends we’ll hang out and go hiking or to the river. I love everyone on our team. It’s a cool job; I enjoy every aspect of it and enjoy the people I do it with.”

And CSEC blends well with the environment of Nevada County. “It’s unique to me. I think the Cal Solar team is representative of the Grass Valley/Nevada City culture,” Travis said. “There’s a real family environment; a common connection. Cal Solar represents, as a business organization, what Nevada County is.”

Here is an article about Travis published in the Union Newspaper on Friday, July 25, 2018.

California Solar Electric Company in Grass Valley is installing 37.6 kW of solar power at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City. California Solar is installing the system using SunPower’s 470 watt panels, which utilize the latest and most efficient technology in the industry.

Due to their high efficiency,  California Solar is able to install the entire system on the most efficient, south facing roof spaces hidden from the street, preserving the historical character of both the Miners Foundry and Nevada City.

“We see going solar as an extension of our legacy and commitment to innovation, sustainability, environment, and our community,” Gretchen Bond, the executive director of the Miners Foundry said.

For nearly 160 years, the Miners Foundry has been the hub of innovation, arts and culture in Nevada County. Now the Foundry serves as a cultural arts and community events center. The installation of solar will help the Miners Foundry save the money needed to make necessary updates to their historic facility.

“In the next phase we plan to replace the old boiler with a state of the art heating, ventilation and air condition unit,” Bond said. “Solar will help us offset these expenses of heating and cooling our 9,000-square-foot facility. Without solar we would have a difficult time implementing these updates that will positively affect our business and our patrons experiences.”

An additional benefit to the Foundry, and other nonprofits, is a new source of special financing offered through California Solar.

“It’s zero dollars down, with fixed monthly payments that are less than the PG&E bills we are eliminating,” said Martin Webb, manager of commercial sales for California Solar. “This allows the Foundry to save money right away and invest the savings elsewhere.”

When completed, the solar system will be the largest solar installation in the downtown historic district. The SunPower solar system has a life expectancy of over 40 years and will deliver over 58,000 kilowatt hours in the first year. By producing 90 percent of its power onsite, and with the special financing offered through California Solar, the Miners Foundry will save more than $235,000 over the next 20 years, followed by even more substantial savings in subsequent years.

“We’ve installed roughly 100,000 watts of solar in downtown Nevada City, including the top of City Hall and the Masonic Lodge, with all of it invisible to the eye from the sidewalks and streets,” said Webb. “This system for the Foundry continues the trend of meeting the city’s demands for new, clean energy sources without compromising the downtown historical experience.”

“We are proud of the vision, leadership, and commitment our local government has shown in transitioning Nevada City’s electricity to be entirely from renewable sources by 2030 and all energy sources will be renewable by 2050,” Bond said. “It shows true responsibility and passion in preserving this beautiful place we call home. We chose California Solar because of their quick response to our many questions, willingness to work out a number of different scenarios, competitive rates, access to creative funding and ongoing commitment to the local community,” she said.

Founded in 2000 and located locally at 149 East Main Street in Grass Valley, California Solar Electric Company has installed more than 5.5 million watts of solar panels. Dedicated to advancing the solar industry and developing the best practices for installation methods, California Solar was listed in the July 2017 issue of industry magazine Solar Power World as one of the Top 500 Solar Contractors in the United States.




California Solar Electric Company is featured on this season’s cover of BriarPatch Coop’s publication, The Vine. We appreciate working with BriarPatch, building their new photovoltaic solar energy system. It is a great match of cooperative values, community resources and sustainability.

Included here are a few excerpts from the article that explain a bit more about the process we are engaged in as we examine the possibility of becoming a worker-owned cooperative.

From The Vine:

Cooperatives are enterprises that are owned, controlled, and operated for the benefit of the members, and are democratically governed on the principle of one member, one vote. In a consumer cooperative like BriarPatch, the voting members are the people who buy the goods from the business. A worker cooperative’s members are the people who work in the co-op, and are referred to as worker-owners.