Home solar, important part of the mix - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Home solar, important part of the mix

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Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:00 pm

We Arizonans should hang our sun-baked heads in shame. With all this precious solar gold hitting our brain pans, rooftops, streets, backyards and open land, we’re letting less-blessed states take the solar energy initiative while we sit back and watch.

In 1912, we were the last territory to become a state, until Alaska and Hawaii joined the union 47 years later. I guess we’re still content to stand at the end of the line. Who knows, maybe cattle drives will become all the rage again. Who needs solar?

California already has more than half the installed solar equipment in the country. It’s widening the gap further by offering publicly financed loans to pay for home solar systems. Homeowners pay the loans back as part of their property taxes. When they sell the house, the next owner picks up the payments.

It’s an idea we should adopt. The biggest roadblock to installing home solar is the up-front cost. An article by Tom Beal at the Star estimated that, after various tax credits and rebates, it would cost a family of four about $10,000 to put up a solar system to cover its energy needs. (You can get a 30 percent tax credit from the feds, $1,000 tax credit from the state and rebates from utility companies.) People would be more willing to take the leap if they could pay back the costs slowly as they watched their gas and electric bills drop to zero, or even move into negative figures if they created excess energy that fed back into the grid.

Arizona may have similar legislation soon. House Bill 2335 would allow cities and counties to loan homeowners money to install renewable energy systems. The money could come from bonds or, possibly, from federal stimulus dollars. The bill is sponsored by three Republicans -- none from this area, I’m sad to say -- so it has far more chance of passage than if Democrats, who are in the minority, were pushing it. The bill has already jumped over a number of legislative hurdles in the House and may move to the Senate soon.

Installing solar on private homes is only one leg of the entire renewable energy picture. Cities need to create larger scale solar projects on their properties, as Tucson is beginning to do. Businesses should do the same. We also need to be building huge solar farms.

And we need to attract solar businesses to Arizona so we can benefit from the creation and export of the technology as well as from the energy it produces. Of course, to attract high tech businesses, we need vibrant, well-funded research universities and world-class K-12 schools. Are you listening, legislators?

But home solar is an important part of the equation. Putting up solar equipment creates Arizona jobs right now and puts money into circulation, which creates more jobs. It lowers our consumption of polluting, non-renewable energy. And it creates that all important buy-in to the alt energy mindset, which makes us more receptive to pursuing other solar and wind power options.

But having said that, I need to remember what Tamarack Little, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent service representative and a big solar advocate, said as we discussed the future of solar in Arizona. “It’s vital to do everything you can to improve your home’s energy efficiency and adjust your energy use habits before going solar,” he told me. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting solar power. He reminded me that the feds will give homeowners a 30 percent credit, $1,500 max, to upgrade windows, doors, roofs, insulation and appliances to maximize their homes’ energy efficiency. All the information can be found at http://www.energystar.gov">www.energystar.gov.

We need to get going. Projects that need long-term planning have to start planning now. And “shovel ready” projects like home energy efficiency upgrades and solar installations should begin tomorrow, if not today.

David Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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