Tax Incentives Put Solar within Reach

Buying a solar system for your home still is not as simple or inexpensive as say picking up a new water heater. But solar energy advocates argue that the systems are affordable and obtainable for just about everyone - right now. Joyce Kryszak checked out that claim.

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Buying a solar system for your home still is not as simple or inexpensive as say picking up a new water heater. But solar energy advocates argue that the systems are affordable and obtainable for just about everyone - right now. Joyce Kryszak checked out that claim:

You might say that sunlight is a trade mark for Cannon Design. The Western New York based firm designs some of the most solar friendly buildings in the world. But only now is Cannon using the sun for its own building.

Eric Lindstrom is Vice President of the company. He says it's what their environmentally savvy clients expect.

"You know there's a huge P.R. factor here that we can bring our clients in and say, you know, this is what we're recommending to you, but we've done it ourselves and it works. That we didn't just read it in a magazine somewhere and say this is what you should be doing."

Lindstrom takes us up on the roof of the company's building to have a look at the new system.

Up here we find solar panels. 140 of them. They're stretched out from edge to edge, soaking up the rays.

Lindstrom says they generate about 5% of the energy the building needs. But he says even at that small percentage the company will recoup the roughly $17,000 investment in about three years.

The system's total price tag is actually about $170,000. But Cannon Design got corporate tax credits and incentives that covered roughly 90%. After the pay-back period, Linstrom says the company will actually pocket money.

Back in the building they can watch the savings add up on the inverter meters inside. That got Lindstrom thinking. He got a bid on a system for his home. He's decided against it for now because the payback would take about eight years. You see, businesses get more tax breaks than homeowners.

But some people say the payback time can be less. And sometimes it just doesn't matter to them.

Joan Bozer was at the American Solar Energy Society Conference held in Buffalo, New York. Bozer was showing off pictures of her home's $30,000 solar system. It cost her half that after incentives. The payback will take a while - about eight years. But Bozer says that's okay.

"Because it doesn't make any difference to me if it's five years or ten years what the payback period is. I want the solar panels, like people in their house they put on the roof they want, or they put on what they want and this is what we want - solar panels on the roof. That's how we want to do it."

But as green-minded as she is, Bozer admits that federal and state incentives gave her the final push.

While everybody can take advantage of recent federal tax credits, state incentives vary. Some are generous, and some offer homeowners nothing. Some local governments are offering low-interest loans on top of the federal and state incentives.

Neal Lurie is with the Solar Society. Lurie says incentives are creating demand and that's driving down the cost of solar systems. He says systems cost about 30% less than last year.

Lurie says with lower prices and tax incentives, some homeowners can have solar without much - or no - money out of pocket.

But how soon will solar catch on with the masses? Lurie predicts in less than six years.

"We'll see solar technology a low-cost provider of electricity, even lower priced than fossil fuels without incentives. I think that when that happens we're going to see it go from being something that people are looking at and starting to do to something that is truly common-place, much more than people may actually expect today."

Others think solar will really take off in just three years. Solar installers are already gearing up. Some say they'll double their workforce by the end of this year.

For The Environment Report - I'm Joyce Kryszak.