Homeowner finds financial reasons to install solar panels - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Homeowner finds financial reasons to install solar panels

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Posted: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 12:00 am

Carl A. Boswell believes the future lies with the sun — specifically with the solar energy that can be captured from it.

Boswell and his wife Patty Estes are installing 14 photovoltaic panels on the roof of their 1,600-square foot Oro Valley home. When installed, the panels should generate slightly more than 3 kilowatts of electricity, supplying more than 80 percent of the household's annual electricity consumption.

Boswell expects his total expenses will be around $20,000, but that's before calculating the rebates and tax write-offs that he'll be getting.

"We're committing to this project because Tucson Electric Power Corp. (his electricity utility supplier) is giving us $3 a watt in rebates, which means a total TEP rebate of $9,000 toward the cost of installation of the solar PV system," Boswell said. "Also, the federal government will give us a 30 percent tax rebate off the cost of the system, and the state will give us a $1,000 tax rebate. After we did the math, about two-thirds of the cost of the system was taken care of with rebates and refunds, so our total out-of-pocket expense is expected to be around $6,000."

Boswell said he expects the payback period to be between six and eight years.

He also pointed out the PV system will run on net metering, in which the electric meter runs in both directions.

"If you're producing more electricity than you're using," he said, "the meter runs backwards and you decrease the numbers on the meter. That means we'll be getting compensated at retail values from TEP for the electricity we produce."

Participants in the TEP program have to sign up to do net metering for a 20-year period, which means they can't store the electricity themselves in batteries on site, or use their TEP subsidy to sever their utility connection and go off the grid.

Boswell is happy about making the switch to solar energy to power his home.

"I have a neighbor who is doing this on a pitched roof, which requires more panels for a couple of reasons," he said. "First, it's not as easy to site panels efficiently on a pitched roof for solar efficiency because of the angle of the roof, compared with a flat roof like ours where you can tune the panels for an optimal angle for the midday sun."

Secondly, Boswell added, his neighbor's house has higher electrical needs than his does.

"I don't have any misgivings about this at all," Boswell said. "The only way it could be better would be if we were able to find more rebates."

Kevin Koch, owner of Technicians for Sustainability in Tucson, is installing the system on Boswell's 1980-built, slump block home.

"A lot of people have PV panels installed for environmental reasons, but now we're seeing a lot of folks who also want to do something environmentally sound and still want it to pan out financially," Koch said.

Koch, who founded TFS in 2003 (www.tfssolar.com), noted the payback period on PV solar systems, which usually have a 10-year warranty, is between eight and 12 years, assuming no utility rate increases during that period.

The way the system works, he said, is that during the day, a homeowner's PV system will overproduce the amount of electricity the house needs to operate, meaning the excess electricity is sent into the utility's lines and a credit is generated on the net metering program. When the sun isn't shining and the PV panels aren't generating any electricity, the typical household consumes more electricity than it produces.

Koch pointed out that when a homeowner overproduces electricity in months such as March and April, the overproduction can be carried forward with the utility to use during the heavier consumption months of May and June.

"The utility acts as your storage system," Koch said, "and significantly reduces the size of the system you need because you don't need any batteries."

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