After adding solar panels, Schlein doesn’t pay for electricity for his house or power for his car






DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

Eco-friendly Rob Schlein runs his house and powers his car on solar power generated by panels on his roof.

Schlein, better known as president of Metroplex Republicans, doesn’t see a bit of conflict between his political and social personas. But his conservative friends sometimes question his motives.

“I’m a little green for them,” he says.

But Schlein argues it’s downright conservative to save all that money he’s not paying for gas to power his Chevy Volt or to TXU to keep his house cool.

“The green I like is cash,” he says.

Since installing solar panels on his house earlier this year, Schlein has only owed money on an electric bill twice, during the two hottest months of the year.

Solar power isn’t for everybody, he acknowledges. Currently, solar panels on the roof don’t add to a home’s resale value and, in some cases, can complicate the sale. But if you plan on staying in your home long-term, Schlein says, solar power just may be for you.

Also, adding solar isn’t as easy as running over to Home Depot, picking up a few panels and calling someone to throw them up on the roof. In Dallas, it’s even more difficult, because experienced installers aren’t based here.

Here’s what Schlein did.

First he researched solar panel manufacturers before settling on Sunpower, a Canadian-made brand. Sunpower, he found, while more expensive, makes the highest efficiency panels available.

Next Schlein searched for installers. He got bids from two and chose the one that answered his questions directly and thoroughly.

The installation company he chose is based in Austin. They used satellite imagery to estimate how many panels could be installed on Schlein’s Dallas home, facing south and west, to generate the most power.

Schlein warned that before going ahead with any solar plans, anyone interested in installing the panels should check for any homeowner association restrictions in their area. Make sure the house is facing the right direction, he added. His panels are on the side and back of his house, hidden from street view. His neighbor across the street would have to install panels facing the street, and that would detract from the house’s appearance.

Obtaining the permits from the city of Dallas took some time, because city inspectors have little experience with solar energy installations, Schlein says.

The recommended output is 10 kilowatts of energy. Oncor will help with installation costs up to that amount. Here’s where the economics of solar energy kick in.

Schlein said his total cost was about $38,000.

Oncor has a fund that pays up to a third of installation costs. He estimates they paid $10,000 of that $38,000 total.

Energy credits from the federal government that expire this year will pay him $12,000 toward the installation. He points out he also didn’t pay full sticker price for his electric car that was also subsidized with energy credits.

“I’d like to thank all of my taxpaying friends for subsidizing my solar panels and electric car,” he says slyly.

Next he picked an electric plan. Only TXU, Reliant and Green Mountain will work with homeowners to credit back energy flowing into the grid when all of the output isn’t being used in the house.

He chose TXU’s plan that charges high rates during the day and offers free electricity at night.

Schlein says he decided against installing a storage battery to store energy produced rather than directing it back into the grid. His installation company recommended against it because, they told him, the technology isn’t quite there yet. However, Tesla has been working on producing a storage battery for home use that he may add later.

Since installing the solar panels, Schlein says he has only paid an electric bill twice. During those high energy usage months, his bill went down from $500 last summer to only $150 this year.

He also takes advantage of the free electricity he gets at night from his TXU plan. That’s when he plugs in his car to charge.

The Chevy Volt can go 40–50 miles before needing recharging. As a backup, it can run on gas as well. He said he’s only used about four tanks of gas.

In addition to $200-to-$300 per month he’s saving on electricity for his house, Schlein estimates he’s saving about $200 a month on gas — depending on the price of gas at the time.

A program on his computer shows Schlein what’s sucking energy and what’s working efficiently. As his halogen lights burn out, he’s replacing them with LED bulbs.

One other warning he had for homeowners thinking of installing solar panels: Make sure the roof is new and sturdy. The solar panels are screwed directly into the roof, so the decking needs to be strong. When the roof needs to be replaced, the solar panels will have to be removed and then replaced.

Schlein says he’s about eight years into a 40-year roof and the solar panels have a 25-year life span.

He sees his solar panels as a long-term investment. The system may take up to eight years to pay for itself. That figure could rise or fall as the cost of electricity and gas changes.

Saving water too
Schlein’s savings don’t stop there. His green credentials continue in the irrigation system he installed in his yard.

First, he had Dallas Water Utility install two water meters. One goes to his house and includes sewer charges that can be almost as high as the water bill. The other only attaches to his irrigation system, with sewer fees waived.

Next, he installed a computer system that adjusts the amount of water used. The program pings the National Weather Service.

Temperature’s over 100? It’ll use more water. Down in the 60s? It uses less. Going to rain? It postpones needless watering.

Schlein said he’s planning to stay in his house long enough to see his investment pay off and is happy to talk to anyone about his experience — even left-wing liberals going solar just because it’s good for the environment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 2, 2015.