by Paul Wolff, Tybee City Council Member

Since announcing on Monday, April 26th that I’d gone solar, I’ve been deluged with questions, so I’m going to try to answer them all with one article and do follow-up reports on how my 5.52 kW Solar World (http://www.solarworld-usa.com/) photovoltaic array is functioning.  I’ve been researching this for years and decided to quit thinking about it and do it for several reasons: the 35% state tax credit (http://www.gefa.org/) is funded through 2012, but is limited to $2.5 million each calendar year (as of April 16th, there was $854,647 left for 2010, and when I called on April 28th to get an updated figure*, it was all gone; more on that later); the 30% federal credit was uncapped through 2016, so the savings are much greater for bigger systems; electric prices are going to go nowhere but up, especially after the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion goes on line; and finally, I want to help convince people that despite what Georgia Power says, solar is an excellent renewable resource for our state.

During the first 5 days my system was operating, I generated 148 kWh (with one rainy and one cloudy day), used 37 kWh from the grid, and had a net surplus of 123 kWh to sell back to GP.  That seems like a pretty viable resource to me.  If you’d like to track my results, here’s the real-time link: http://siteapp.fatspaniel.net/siteapp/simpleView.jsf?&view=PV/standard/Simple&eid=506540.

Keith Freeman, with One World Sustainable installed my system and handled the technical sections of the tax credit applications.  Keith and I have known each other for several years: we’ve been in workshops and on panels together, and I respect his knowledge and integrity (aside from which, he’s a Savannah Boy).
We discussed numerous options, but his advice was that since I had plenty of roof space, it wouldn’t be cost-effective to buy a more efficient system, so SolarWorld seemed best.  He gave me bids on 3 systems: 2.76 kW, 4.6 kW, and 5.52 kW (Keith asked me not to quote my “brother-in-law” price, but said a good ball park number is $6.50/watt.).
I chose the largest array partly because it was the lowest price per watt, but mainly because I wanted to take the biggest bite out of my electric bill.  The disadvantage to that was that I was over the $10,500 limit on the state tax credit, but I figure I’ll make that up over time.  In case you’re doing the math, here’s the bottom line for the middle system, and it will work with any of the 3 options:

20 SolarWorld SW230watt PV modules, mounting system, inverter, all hardware, installation, sales tax, and permits $29,900.00

Fat Spaniel monitoring system (this may seem frivolous, but it could help identify problems. Besides, it IS fun!) $995.00

Up-front cost  $30,895.00
30% federal tax credit  $9,268.00
35% state tax credit
(actually $10,813, but the max is $10,500)

Net cost  $11,127.00

Georgia Power has two buy-back options: dual metering and single-directional, both of which have 5-year contracts.  The first is open to anyone:  GP replaces your existing meter with a digital one that separately registers what you use from the grid, and the surplus generation you put into the grid.  The electricity from your solar panels powers your own needs first, and anytime there’s a surplus, it goes into the grid and GP pays you 5.5 cents/kWh (about half what you pay for theirs).  The single-directional program is limited to 2500 kW state-wide; I was on the waiting list and got in just in time.  With this option, all the power my solar panels generate goes through a separate meter into the grid, and GP pays 17 cents/kWh for it.  Annie and I have some ethical issues about using their dirty power and selling them all our nice clean energy, but this helps expand their green power program, which is currently 90% landfill gas.  Now that you see why the timing was right for me, here’s some advice on how to proceed if you’re interested.

1.  Check your roof for southern exposure, and if it won’t last 25 years or more, replace it before you install solar (the panels are guaranteed 25 years).  There’s also a 30% federal tax credit on qualified roofing ($1500 maximum on materials only).  I put a standing-seam white metal roof on top of my 13-year-old shingles for three reasons:  I should save 10-20% on cooling costs due to the reflective surface, heat diminishes the efficiency of solar panels, and the panels can be clamped directly to the seams, eliminating the need to go through the roof to tie them to the rafters.

2.  Research available products and installers:  There’s a lot of information out there, and solar technology is improving rapidly, but you need to evaluate efficiency, cost, and availability.

3.  Timing is critical:  Since the state money for 2010 is gone, be ready to go first thing next year– have the roof done, sign a contract with Georgia Power for dual-metering and get on the waiting list for single-directional (you have 6 months after signing to install the system).  It wouldn’t hurt to give Tracy Williams at GEFA a call at 404-584-1037 to get details ahead of time, but you won’t qualify for the 35% state tax credit until your system is on the roof and tied to the grid.  Last year the $2.5 million was gone in July, this year in April, so the sooner you act, the better.

If you have any questions I haven’t addressed, feel free to email me at tybeeduo@bellsouth.net.

Let’s work together to make Tybee energy independent.

Paul Wolff

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