Clippings: Solar panels spark hot interest

OK, OK. We’d had numerous people stop and ask various members of the Addison Independentstaff about the new décor on our southern-facing roof.
We put up two banks of solar panels on our roof late this fall, and they’ve generated a lot more interest than I might have expected. So, here’s the story:
We’d had a slow leak in our roof this past fall, ruining a ceiling tile or two, and causing us to push the photocopier off to the side for a couple days. Nothing major, but something to fix.
It was just about the time Chris Eaton swung by to place some ads about his solar-energy business, Backspin Renewables, which is based here in Middlebury.
We got to talking, and I said I’d heard the tax incentives were pretty favorable and wondered if they were still in place. He said they were.
We talked some more.
The gist was simple: In rough numbers, put in a $71,000 system; get $8,844 back as a rebate incentive from the Renewable Energy Resource Center, which in turn is a project of the Vermont Energy Investment Corp. Then we apply a 30-percent federal income tax credit based on the project cost; then we can apply 100 percent of the depreciation on an accelerated rate for 2011, or split it over two years in 2012-13. Finally, we get a 7-percent Vermont tax credit off the cost of the system applied at the time we file our taxes. Effectively, it amounts to a bit more than $40,000 in tax credits and accelerated depreciation.
The bottom line: The system could be put in place for about $22,000 net, which would be offset by the electricity sold back to the grid. At about $3,000 to $3,500 per year, that means the system pays for itself in seven years (assuming all cost projections hold true).
Let me emphasize that the net cash expenditure is about $62,000, with the rest being returned in reductions to taxes owed. The production would yield $22,000 in electricity sold back to the grid at the end of the seventh year; then generate a net of about $63,000 over the next 18 years (rated on a 25-year life expectancy with associated cost assumptions.)
Not long after we went through the calculations, we got a local roofer to replace our 20-year-old shingle roof, and before the weather turned bad (we picked a good year to do it because installers were able to work on the roof through December) we had the solar system in place.
By late January, the system was checked and approved by CVPS and we’re now selling power back to the grid.
That’s the nut of the story. The details are fun, too.
We installed a 12.24kW PV system, with 48 separate panels making a 255kW solar array, and we have a 2 SMA Sunny Boy Inverter, which reads the amount of electricity we’re generating in real time, I think.
Actually, when watching the meter, it’s kind of fun to think the electric company is paying the Addison Independent, instead of the other way around, but even that’s not totally accurate. We spend about $6,900 a year in electricity, so the average return of $3,500 per year over the 25-year period, means we’ll cut our electric expenses in about half during that time.
The savings are nice, of course, but $3,500 annually isn’t going to help hire a new employee or build an addition, but that’s not really the point. It’s also the right thing to do. It reduces our carbon footprint, generates renewable power into the grid and, as GMP’s CEO Mary Powell recently said, it reduces the summer peak load demand on the system at a crucial time… and that’s actually quite a help to the grid.
It is, in short, all good. For this system, it’s helpful to have a large south-facing roof; but there are many other types of solar units that are equally as effective, if not more so — residential as well as commercial. The goal is to strive toward self-sufficiency with renewable power and every little bit each of us can do, helps. That’s the best reason to make the investment, plus, regardless of how impractical it is, it’s fun to watch the meter spin knowing you’re making money, not spending it.

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