Program sparks interest in home solar energy

Tax credits help owners to cover upfront costs

PRINCETON — Have you ever wondered what it might take to convert to solar energy?

It’s become an easier and more affordable process, thanks to federal and state tax credit programs that eliminate upfront costs, making the conversion worth it for homeowners around the state.

Scott Courtney, a broker for Direct Solar America, recently presented a program at the Princeton Public Library to discuss the process of converting to solar energy and the benefits people experience by doing so.

The top benefits for residential installations, according to Courtney, are:

1) It will save homeowners money by providing significant reductions in monthly electric bills.

2) Long-term savings can be dramatic.

3) Solar energy is better for the environment.

The downfall of solar energy is that not every home or property may be fit for the conversion. Courtney said orientation of a homeowner’s roof has a lot to do with the success of solar energy.

“If you have a north-facing roof, it won’t work,” he said. “The more exposure to the south, the better the program is.”

Getting an idea on just how much a homeowner will save is easy. It’s a matter of sending a copy of an electric bill to a representative at Direct Solar America. The bill must show an address and monthly kilowatt-usage.

Representatives take a look on Google Maps to check the direction the home is facing and calculate how many average hours of sunshine per year the home gets and the average monthly kilowatt-usage. This helps determine how many solar panels will be needed for the home.

Contractors from around the state then bid on the project. They handle all needed engineering, order the materials and secure any licenses or permits with the city.

Courtney said the process takes anywhere from eight to 10 weeks, weather depending.

The homeowner’s electric company inspects the solar panels before they are turned on and a monitoring system is set up, which gives homeowners the ability to see how each solar panel is faring by either their smartphone or computer.

The federal and state programs help pay for upfront costs of the solar panels by reimbursing homeowners a percentage of the cost of their solar panels through tax credits, according to Courtney.

“As long as you take that money and put it toward your solar system, it works,” he said.

The remaining cost is financed over a 20-year period of time, or the remaining cost can be paid off right away. The cost of solar panels varies for each homeowner.

While electric rates continue to increase over time, a solar energy system stays at the same rate, therefore saving money long-term, according to Courtney.

Solar panels come with a 25-year warranty, and Courtney said other than dust and pollen getting in the way at times, they are very durable and need very little maintenance.

Princeton resident Rick Brooks is one of the first homeowners in the area to undergo the process. He said he would like to see Princeton take the lead on solar energy.

“There’s not a lot of mystery to it, because people stay in touch with you, which is what I really value,” he said. “(It’s) good for property owners and the community as a whole.”