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Californians installing more renewable energy at home

California is seeing more residents install renewable energy systems in effort to control their own energy bills and jump on available rebates and tax credits.  

The number of applications for residential energy systems in the state has increased annually in the past few years, said Rhonda Mills, the Southern California program director for the Sacramento-based Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

State data reports there are 17 Barstow residences with a total of 80.34 kilowatts of solar power. There is one home in Hinkley using 2.5 kilowatts, seven homes in Newberry Springs using 27.45 kilowatts and two homes in Yermo using 8.5 kilowatts.

For different reasons, the current economy is both preventing people from installing energy systems to their homes and businesses and also propelling people to install them, Mills said.
Some people just don’t have the money to invest in the initial installation costs for something that on average for a home takes three to six years to pay for itself, Mills said.

Without rebates or tax credits, the average residential solar system costs about $34,800 for a four kilowatt system, according to the California Solar Initiative and California Energy Commission. Currently, the state tax credits equal to about 30 percent of the total system cost.

On the other hand, because of the state of the economy, “people want to have control of their electric bill,” Mills said.

This was the case for Stephen Stewart, who installed a windmill at his Lenwood home two years ago because ratepayers are paying the utility companies for the energy subsidies anyway, he said.

“This was really a self-protection move,” he said. Stewart chose wind because he lives in a windy area and because windmill installation costs are 30 to 40 percent cheaper than solar. The California Energy Commission estimates that the cost of wind energy can be around 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

At this point, he is generating a 30 percent surplus of power, which SCE will begin to purchase from him soon, he said.

“It’s certainly benefiting me,” Stewart said, adding it will take about seven years total for the investment to pay for itself.

While wind is cheaper, installing a solar energy system is getting more affordable, Mills said, because the price of photovoltaic panels keeps decreasing. The average installation cost of solar power has gone from more than $10 per watt to about $8.70 per watt, according to the California Solar Initiative.

In addition, residents have taken advantage of California tax credits and company rebates that have brought the prices down to make that happen, although the utility rebate programs are running out of money for the program because it’s so popular, Mills said.

Southern California Edison can provide rebates to 26.63 more megawatts of residential energy systems before ending the rebates, according to the California Solar Initiative.

Rebates and tax credits aside, there are also residents who have installed energy systems completely because of the environmental benefits, said Emily Murray, a Los Angeles lawyer with experience in energy law.

“Some people want to support renewable energy on a grassroots level,” Murray said.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or smitchell@desertdispatch.com


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