Let there be solar

Solar panels are getting a lot of buzz in Easton, Redding and Trumbull as the three towns kick off a unified campaign to encourage residents to use the sun to light their homes.

Representatives for the solar initiative spoke to about 200 people from Easton, Redding and Trumbull at Madison Middle School in Trumbull for a workshop Sunday.

Brendan Smith, a system designer for Sunlight Solar — the installer chosen by Solarize Easton-Redding-Trumbull — was one of the speakers.

“The first [reason to go solar] is to save money on your electric bill,” Smith said.

If a home’s solar panel produces more electricity than what is being used in the home, that excess electricity is sent back to the power grid and you receive credits. Then, during a time when you are not producing enough electricity to fulfill your energy needs, those credits are used.

A special meter needs to be installed to measure how much power goes out from your home and how much goes in.

“Ideally, you zero out at the end,” Smith said.

The next reason for going solar, he said, is energy independence.

“You’re in control of your energy source,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s good for the environment; it will decrease your footprint.”

And having solar panels will increase the value of your home, according to Smith.

Can you go solar?

There are three basic issues to take into account when determining if a house is solar-friendly.

The pitch of the roof and its orientation — south-facing is best — have some latitude. The level of shading is less flexible.

“If there’s lots of sun we can make use of other directions,” Mr. Smith said of the direction the roof faces.

If a home’s shading is borderline it might be suggested that the homeowner could remove some trees to be eligible.

The costs

There are different costs depending on whether the panels are leased or owned. The cost is also based on the size of the system and the quality of the site.

“The better the quality, the more the incentive,” Smith said.

A federal tax credit will cover 30% of out-of-pocket expenses.

“It comes to you and your taxes,” Smith said.

There are five pricing tiers for the Solarize initiative.

At Tier 5, the net price for a seven-kW system (excluding potential adders) is $10,988 after CEFIA incentive and a federal tax credit. Tier 5 goes into effect if about 40 systems averaging seven kW are purchased in the three towns collectively.

One adder (making the system more expensive), is needed if the house has a cedar roof.

After the deadline date of the initiative — Feb. 9, 2014 — pricing will be adjusted for those who have already purchased to reflect the final tier, and credit will be given to those who paid more.

In order to get federal tax credit for the 2013 tax year it is suggested that you sign up by mid-to-late October for installation in early December.

The tax credit is available until 2016 and any remainder of the tax credit in previous years can roll over.

Financing options are available.

Additional information

In order to get a solar panel installed, the homeowner must have at least $30,000 of liability insurance. Check with your insurance provider about coverage and the company’s requirements.

Going completely off the grid is feasible but expensive, according to Smith.

In the event of power outages, the inverters for the system will shut off so line workers don’t get electrocuted. Therefore, solar power while staying on the grid does not act as a back-up plan, or generator substitute, for outages.

An initial evaluation may be done over the phone. If you are a good candidate, a representative from Sunlight Solar Energy will come to measure for the number of panels needed. The representative will also look at annual usage. A proposal will be drawn up that explains system costs, incentives and savings.

The company will apply for the state rebate on your behalf.

It is advisable that the life of the roof be longer than the life of the solar panel — typically 20 years when new. Otherwise, you will have to take down the solar panel to replace the roof.

Local leaders

First selectman Timothy Herbst was at the workshop Sunday with leaders from Redding and Easton.

“We’ll show Connecticut how to get it done,” Herbst said.

He plans to take advantage of the program and get an assessment.

“It’s good for the economy and the environment,” he said.

He noted high energy costs in the area and said that the money saved could go back into the pockets of residents and into the local economy.

Tom Herrmann, first selectman of Easton, said that going solar is best suited for those who are environmentally conscious, fiscally prudent and plan to live in their house long enough for it to pay off.

“The bottom line is, everyone should check it out,” Herrmann said.

Before the workshop, at least 75 people had expressed interest. More were inquiring after the workshop.

Home is where the heat is

The use of clean energy and green technology is nothing new for Laura and Steven Salma of Easton, who moved into their home, equipped with solar panels, in 2010.

They spent seven years designing and three years building their custom-made hi-tech green, clean home that includes heavy duty insulation, strategically placed windows for light and heat, geothermal heating and cooling — and solar panels.

They wanted the house to be warm, cozy, inviting, low maintenance and low cost.

“We built it to be our retirement home,” Laura said, “while we had the income.”

The solar panels were part of the design all along. The couple worked closely with architect Joseph Robert Gluse of Shelton on details, including the perfect pitch of their south-facing, sunlight-optimizing roof.

The 10/12 pitch of the roof is considered ideal for collecting energy from the sun.

“You want to maximize solar gain,” Laura said. “At different times of the year, the sun is pointing in different [directions].”

The couple — he a retired engineer and she a retired economist — took a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of green technology and home design to optimize technology, design and space.

“We’re both very practicality oriented,” Steven said.

But it paid off. They do not use oil at all. They do, however, use propane but just to run instant hot water heaters, a gas fireplace and a 20-kW generator. They also have a wood-burning stove.

Their five-kW solar panel generates 54% of the electricity for the 2,100-square-foot main living area. They figure it will take 15 years to be paid back for the solar panels.

The cost of their panels — turned on in 2009 — was $11,000 after a federal tax credit and state subsidies.

Since then, solar panel prices have gone down and are especially low during the current Solarize campaign.

“This makes it a total no-brainer to go solar,” Laura said.

They only pay for electricity four months of the year, December through March.

“The rest of the year the electricity is $15.85 per month to rent the meters,” Laura said.

And while it might be difficult to retrofit a home for a geothermal heating and cooling system because of the way the walls are constructed, homes might already have suitable roofs for solar panels.

An additional local workshop on the tri-town program will be scheduled in early October.

More information about the program may be found at solarizect.com/Easton-Redding-Trumbull or by contacting Sunlight Solar Energy directly at 203-878-9123, or visiting sunlightsolar.com.