A Hinesville homeowner last week joined the slowly growing ranks of energy consumers who are turning to the sun’s rays for more than warmth.
While it’s too soon for Army Sgt. Ronnie Haddox to see the fruits of his decision to install a solar photovoltaic electricity system on his 1,900-square-foot house, he said he was motivated by an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Instead of just constantly costing me money for power, if I put the solar panels up, I’m getting paid for putting power back into the grid,” he said. Until now, he was paying about $140 per month for electricity.
Haddox said he saw the opportunity to turn his home’s idle time into a way to reduce his energy costs and possibly generate revenue — especially when the house sits idle during future deployments.
By law, electricity providers must allow their customers to tie solar systems into the grid, according to Julian Smith, owner of the installation company SolarSmith, which installed Haddox’s system. If the solar panels do not generate enough electricity, customers simply buy it the old-fashioned way. But if they generate a surplus, the additional power is sold back to the provider at a rate around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The decision is not one that Haddox took lightly, though — he mulled it over for months while conducting his own research and looking for a reputable installation company. And even after federal and state tax incentives for making the green move, he still had to foot about 35 percent of the cost.
Since launching his business in 2006, Smith said he has installed an estimated 30 kilowatts of solar panels in six houses in Chatham County — thanks in large part to the tax incentives.
A federal credit that runs through 2016 covers 30 percent of installation costs, Smith said.
Last year, the General Assembly increased a statewide solar energy tax credit from $2.5 million to $5 million per year through 2014; with this credit, homeowners may receive up to $10,500 in tax credits for residential systems on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a news release from the Georgia Solar Energy Association.
“Georgia is ranked fourth in the nation in solar energy, and particularly, along the coast, all the way out to Hinesville, we actually have the same rating as Florida in our area, which is the third-best energy producer,” Smith added. “It’s clean, American power.”
But representatives from local electrical companies say many factors need to be considered before going solar.
“When you invest in solar, you are essentially prepaying for your electricity for the next 20 years,” said Mark Bolton, vice president of Communications for Coastal Electric Cooperative.
Consumers could take smaller steps toward saving money, such as taking advantage of home audits that tell co-op members how they can increase their efficiency, Bolton and Canoochee Electric Cooperative communication specialist Joe Sikes said.
“The smartest choice is to first make other efforts to reduce your home energy usage through more efficient appliances, a higher-efficiency heat pump, better insulation and windows,” Bolton said.
Sikes, who said he has received more inquiries about solar power in the past couple of years, said it’s often cost-prohibitive — and the future uncertainty of tax incentives does not provide a clean-cut picture.
“I think it’s neat, I wish we had more of them out here — but we keep hoping the technology gets better,” Sikes said.
Coastal Electric has two Bryan County members with grid-tied solar systems, and Canoochee also has two; one is Haddox, and the other is a church with a system donated by a congregation member.
One solar-powered Coastal Electric member near Sayles Landing reduced daytime power consumption to almost zero around noon on sunny days, Bolton said. “Of course, that also corresponds with a time when their home is not demanding a lot of power — but there is still a very definite reduction in usage by the fact they have a 4,000-watt solar array.”
Coastal Electric also invested $18,000 in a 2,000-watt array on its Midway property that has produced 3,700 kilowatt-hours in a year, he said. “So, to put it in perspective, an $18,000 investment here at our office has produced enough electricity in a year to run your house for one or two months.”
The amount works out to about 21 cents per kilowatt-hour, almost twice the price of electricity purchased from a provider. With the available tax credits, the cost per kilowatt-hour is reduced to about 13.5 cents.
“That’s about 11 percent higher than our current residential energy rate, but as electricity costs increase, then solar will become more competitive,” he said. “Without both the state and federal tax credits, solar is just not a wise financial investment in my opinion.”
“But, if you are willing to pay a premium price for the fact that it is a clean ‘green’ energy source and you want to be an early adopter of solar technology then I say, ‘Go for it,’” Bolton added.