7 Steps to Solar Panels in Oregon

Many people believe Oregon isn’t a good place to go solar because of the frequently cloudy and rainy weather. However, residents enjoy a great variety of solar incentives and end up saving more than $15,500, on average, by converting to solar energy.

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Solar equipment is slightly below average in cost per watt in Oregon, with the average system price of around $24,700 before any federal or state incentives are considered. While converting to clean energy is expensive in the area, most Oregonians find that solar is well worth the investment, given how much panels save on energy costs over time.

The typical system in the area pays for itself in energy savings in 13 years, which is just above the national average. After that point, the system is expected to provide lifetime savings totaling $15,648, thanks to the above-average energy consumption in the state.1 Plus, Oregon is one of the top states for solar incentives.

In this guide, we’ll be explaining the process of going solar from start to finish to give you an idea of what to expect and what to look out for each step of the way. You can use the links below to skip to a certain step for more information.

Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract

Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO)

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy

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Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels in Oregon

Community solar benefitted from Oregon’s virtual net metering policy
Credit: mrganso / Pixabay

The first step to going solar is to figure out how valuable it would be for your home. We’ll explain what research you can do to determine your property’s solar viability in the following sections.

Research If Solar Panels Are a Good Fit For You in Oregon

Solar is a valuable investment for most Oregon residents, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone in the state. Your first goal should be figuring out how fit for solar adoption your home is and what your long-term solar savings will be.

We recommend starting the research process by figuring out how many panels your home needs. You can use our solar calculator to get a good idea of the system size required to offset your energy bills.

The average solar array size in the state is 9.5 kilowatts (kW), given the average energy usage and sun exposure. If your recommended size is much larger, it could mean one of two things: your energy consumption is above-average, or you have some factor negatively affecting your solar viability.

One such factor could be your sun exposure. Tree coverage can be an issue, but in Oregon, cloudy weather is more commonly the culprit. The state sees just 143 sunny days per year, which is just under 70% of the national average.2 If your city receives even less sun, like in Astoria, then your solar viability will be even lower.3

In most states, another crucial thing to consider when figuring out how valuable your photovoltaic (PV) panels will be is your access to net metering.

Net metering, also called net energy metering (NEM), is a policy that credits you for the excess energy you send to the grid. The credits you accrue can offset your energy consumption when your panels fail to produce sufficient energy, like on cloudy days or at night. NEM maximizes your savings over time and helps pay off your panels much more rapidly.

Luckily, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) in Oregon not only mandates net energy metering for all electric utility companies, but it also sets the credit rate at the full retail value per kilowatt-hour (kWh). That means every kWh you overproduce in the sunshine will offset one kWh you pull from the grid at night or on cloudy days.

This is the ideal situation, and since it’s a statewide policy, it’s available for customers of all of the electric companies in the area, including the following:

  • Customers of Idaho Power Company
  • Customers of Pacific Power (PacifiCorp)
  • Customers of Portland General Electric (PGE)
  • Customers of electric cooperatives, like Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC)

As such, Oregonians don’t need to consider their access to net metering to determine how valuable solar conversion will be for their homes. All residents receiving power from a public utility company receive equal access to NEM.

The table below provides a side-by-side look at how valuable solar is in Oregon compared to the rest of the country. As you can see, solar is less beneficial in the Beaver State than it is in most other areas, but it still saves a significant amount of money.

Oregon State Average United States National Average
Solar Power System Size Required 9.5 kW 9 kW
Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment $2.60 $2.66
Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit $24,700 $23,940
Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value $7,410 $7,182
Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit $17,290 $16,758
Average Panel Payback Period 13 years 12 years
Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar $15,648 $22,379

Research How to Finance Solar Panels

Once you’ve determined that solar is a good option for your home, you can look into the different payment options to see which makes the most sense for you.

The average cost of going solar in OR hovers around $24,700 before any financial incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Energy, so many homeowners will need to opt for something other than a cash payment.

If you haven’t done so already, we recommend exploring solar financing options by using our solar estimator to see what size system you need. You can multiply the number of watts required by $2.60 — the average price per watt in your area — to get an estimate for the full system price.

Once you know the initial cost, you can decide which of the four payment options will suit your budget:

  • Cash purchase: Paying for your system upfront in cash is the least accessible option, given the initial cost. However, if you can afford it, you’ll enjoy the lowest system price, thanks to not paying interest, and your long-term savings will be as high as possible.
  • Solar loan: A loan is a much more affordable solar option because you’ll only be responsible for a down payment at first, which can be as low as $0. The remaining system balance is paid over several years but with interest added on. That means your all-in system price will be a bit higher, and your savings will be a little lower.
  • Solar lease: With a solar lease, you pay a flat fee every month to rent your PV equipment, and the energy it generates is put toward your utility bills to pay them down. A leased solar array will never pay itself off, so the long-term savings are limited. You also cannot take the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) with a lease.
  • PPA: A power purchase agreement (PPA) is an arrangement where your panels get installed at no initial cost. Your savings come from buying the solar power the panels produce rather than buying power from your energy company. This option saves the least amount of money over time, but it comes with no upfront investment. PPAs also don’t let you take the federal tax credit.

It’s worth noting that there are some outstanding solar rebate programs offered by the State of Oregon — like the Oregon Solar + Storage Rebate Program and the Solar Within Reach program. These cash incentives can save thousands of dollars on your system costs, and even more if you’re considered a low-income resident.

When you’re choosing one of these options, we urge you to prioritize getting your panel payback period as low as possible. The faster your payment method allows you to pay off your system, the more you’ll save with your panels over time.

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

When you’ve confirmed that solar is a good investment for your home and you can cover the costs, you can start researching installers and choosing one that suits your needs. We’ll explain how to do this effectively in the sections below.

Picking a Solar Installer

Choosing a company to handle your solar project can be an intimidating process. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are around 70 solar contractors that service the Beaver State.4 Each company brings something different to the table, so finding one that suits you involves a lot of research.

We suggest prioritizing the following qualities in your solar panel system installation company to ensure you get a quality solar system and have a positive experience with customer service:

  • The company should employ technicians that are certified by NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners).
  • The installer should have at least five years of experience serving the solar industry.
  • The provider should offer good warranty coverage — we’ll quantify this a bit later.
  • The company should offer tier-one panel brands at affordable prices.
  • The installer should accept the payment method you’ve chosen.
  • The company should have positive customer reviews online and few — if any — complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Since researching the 70 or so Oregon solar companies in the state can be time-consuming, we’ll include a short list of some of our top-rated solar installers in Oregon below to help get you started in the right direction:

  • Sunlight SolarLocal installer
  • Purelight Power — Regional installer
  • Tesla — National installer

What to Expect After Requesting a Quote

A sales representative should reach out to you within a couple of days to discuss your needs and expectations. They’ll likely ask for a recent electric bill to assess your monthly electricity consumption and they should set up an in-person inspection to check your roof and sun exposure.

Once all of the necessary information is gathered, your project will be taken over by the company’s design team to come up with a solar system that meets your demands and will fit on your roof. All of the necessary information about your system should be included in a solar proposal, which your sales rep should call to discuss.

Your proposal is the formal solar quote for your system, and it should contain the following information:

  • A proposed arrangement for the panels on your roof to optimize sunlight collection.
  • A breakdown of the costs of your solar electric system before and after the federal tax credit.
  • The size of your system, how much energy it will produce each month and what that means in terms of lifetime energy savings.
  • An estimate for how long your panels will take to pay for themselves.
  • Payment information, including a breakdown of when payments are due.
  • Warranty information for your system.
  • A proposed installation timeline.
  • Fees are included in your costs for permits and inspections.

We recommend going through the above process with at least two or three installation companies to get multiple proposals. This can be time-consuming, but having options means you can choose the best value for the money. Some companies price match as well, so you could end up saving money on a higher-quality system with multiple quotes.

Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories

Since you only get to take the federal tax credit once, it’s a good idea to have all of the add-on products you might want to be installed included in your quote. Panels and inverters will come standard with all systems, but you may want to opt for the below add-on products with your system:

  • Electric vehicle (EV) chargers: According to local news sources, Oregon ranks second in the nation in terms of electric vehicle adoption.5 Although the public charging infrastructure is strong, many solar customers want the convenience of at-home charging and will have chargers installed alongside their panels.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades: Oregon residents consume more electricity per month than homeowners in most other states.6 Some popular options along with solar conversion include energy efficiency home improvements, like window, door and insulation replacement, appliance upgrades and solar water heater installations. These options are offered by some of the PV system installers in the area.
  • Solar batteries: Solar storage systems are usually installed more often in areas that don’t have statewide access to net energy metering because they effectively provide NEM at the retail rate for stored energy. They’re also popular in Oregon because they provide energy through power outages, which are more common in the state compared to others.7

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in Oregon

Clouds blocking the sun can reduce your panel production
Clouds blocking the sun can reduce your panel production.

Once you have a quote for all of the solar equipment and add-on products you want to be installed, and you’re comfortable with the company and the cost, you can sign the contract. We’ll explain some of the things we recommend looking for in your contract in the following sections.

How Do Solar Warranties Work in Oregon?

Your access to solar warranties is one of the most important things we recommend looking for in your contract. There are three types of warranty coverage for PV systems, and having access to all three keeps you and your system protected from damage and poor performance. We’ll explain the different coverage options below:

  • Equipment warranties: Equipment warranties cover things like manufacturer defects, so they’re considered baseline coverage for your panels. These usually last for 25 years.
  • Labor or workmanship warranties: Labor warranties last for ten years, on average. They cover things like errors made during the installation process that lead to issues with your system or property damage. In Oregon, rainfall is significantly more abundant than it is in most states.8 It’s helpful to have roof leak coverage included in your workmanship warranty, although this isn’t a very common option.
  • Efficiency warranties: Efficiency warranties ensure that your panels continue generating sufficient energy by guaranteeing a minimal amount of efficiency degradation over the warranty term. The standard in the solar industry is for no more than a 20% loss of efficiency over 20 years.

When Can I Expect Solar Service to Go Live?

After you sign your contract, you’re likely looking at waiting between three and six months before your panels are installed and begin producing power for your home. The wait time can be extended for a few different reasons, including the following:

  • Delays on the part of your local building department, which needs to issue permits before installation can begin.
  • Delays that stem from your installer being backed up.
  • Delays in the interconnection approval and inspection process caused by your energy provider being backed up.

It’s also worth mentioning that installing rooftop solar panels can be dangerous in wet conditions. As such, it’s possible to see delays because of the weather, which is often not ideal in Oregon, given the above-average rainfall.

Solar Panel Permits in Oregon

Municipalities throughout Oregon require that your installer file for and receive building permits or electrical permits before panel installation can commence. Regardless of where you live, your installer should be the one filing for the permits, so most of the process falls on them.

However, you will be responsible for paying any permit fees, which can vary based on the city or county you reside in. The average permit cost for solar conversion in Oregon can fall between $100 and $900.

For example, Portland requires both a building permit — which averages $576 — and an electrical permit — which will often be over $300 — for a total cost of around $876.9 The City of Salem charges much less: $67.25 for the building permit and $94 for the electrical permit, for a total of $161.25.10

Eugene falls in the middle of these two extremes. The city charges $178.50 for the building permit and $167 for the electrical permit, totaling around $345.50.11

You can always contact your local building department for specific fees in your area, or you can ask your installer or check your solar proposal for fee information.

Solar & Utility Interconnection

Your installer will also apply for interconnection for you, usually around the same time building permits are filed for. Interconnection is what governs how your system interacts with the electric grid, and it’s required to access your net metering program.

Interconnected systems usually just require an application to be filed with your utility provider. Your installer should handle the necessary paperwork, but you will be responsible for paying any application fees, much like with the permits. Every utility provider has a different application process and varying application fees.

For example, Idaho Power Company has an online application process and charges a one-time $100 application fee.12 PacifiCorp uses an online application portal called Oasis.13 Application fees are assessed directly during the application process. Again, you can ask your installer for information on the fee for applying if you’re served by a different company.

Applying for interconnection — and waiting for the necessary inspection to be completed before your system can be connected to the grid — will add to your installation timeline and overall cost. However, because it gives you access to NEM (which reduces your effective electricity rates) it’s well worth applying for interconnection.

Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day in Oregon

On the day your panels are scheduled to be installed — which will be after permits are approved — your installers should arrive in the morning and work through the afternoon. Solar system installations take between four and ten hours in Oregon, on average, given the typical system size.

Most customers wonder, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” The answer is yes! Your technicians will need access to your home throughout the day during the installation, so you should plan on being home all day when your PV system is being installed.

Since a big cause of delays in connection to the grid is scheduling the interconnection inspection with your utility provider, some solar contractors will schedule the inspection on the installation day to save time. Solar inspections take around a half hour to complete, so this could add to your installation timeline a bit.

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in Oregon

After the installation is completed, your building department will need to inspect the system to sign off on closing out your building permits. Building permits need to be closed to avoid violations for open permits and to avoid problems with financing if you ever go to sell your home in the future.

Some building inspectors will be willing to do an exterior inspection only, which doesn’t require you to be home. This is especially the case if you only have panels and inverters installed.

Other building inspectors will need interior access to ensure the connection to your electrical panel was made safely. Access is also more often required if you have add-on products like solar batteries or EV chargers installed in your garage.

Your installer should schedule the inspection for you, but you’ll need to be home to provide access. If you miss your scheduled inspection, you might be charged a re-inspection fee.

After the inspection is completed to make sure your system is connected properly, you’ll be responsible for assessing the system’s functionality on an ongoing basis. Some panel manufacturers include a solar monitoring app to help keep track of solar production. You can ask your installer if you have access to monitoring software.

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) in Oregon

The final step before your panels can be turned on is to get permission to operate (PTO) from your electric company. This requires an in-person inspection from your utility provider, which your installer may have scheduled on the installation date. If not, it will be scheduled as soon after the installation as possible, although this can take weeks to get on the calendar.

It’s an exterior inspection only in most cases, so you shouldn’t need to be home to provide access. Once it’s completed, your installer should either return to activate your system or contact you to let you know how you can turn on your panels. Once on, your system will officially be generating power for your home.

It’s a good idea to ask your installer for any last-minute information you might need, like how to operate the emergency shut-off switch and how you can monitor your production and consumption. If you have access to a solar monitoring app, your solar contractor should help you set that up at this point.

The only additional information you need for your system is the emergency contact number for your power provider. If you run into an emergency, you should dial 911 and then report the issue to your electric company. We’ll include the emergency numbers for some of the larger providers in the area below:

  • Idaho Power Company: 208-388-2323
  • Pacific Power (PacifiCorp): 1-877-508-5088
  • Portland General Electric (PGE): 1-800-544-1795
  • Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC): 1-866-430-4264

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy in Oregon

Finally, you can relax knowing that your solar energy system is up and running! As a result, your carbon footprint and emissions should be significantly reduced, you’ll start to see large reductions in your monthly electric bills and you’ll be contributing to the renewable energy movement.

We should also mention that the return on investment (ROI) you’ll see from your panels is expected to be the highest if you continue to live in your home and enjoy the energy savings directly. However, solar conversion also raises your home value, so you should see a return even if you sell your home after converting to renewable energy.

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Article author
Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he's not checking his own home's solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing.
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Expert reviewer
Kristina Zagame is a journalist, editor and content writer with expertise in solar and other energy-related topics. Before joining EcoWatch, Kristina was a TV news reporter and producer, covering a wide variety of topics including West Coast wildfires and hurricane relief efforts. Kristina’s reporting has taken her all over the U.S., as well as to Puerto Rico and Chile.

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