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Do The Bright Thing

THE REALIST IDEALIST

For homeowners who want to install solar panels but fear the cost, a new federal incentive may help.

November 01, 2008|SUSAN CARPENTER | Carpenter is a Times staff writer. Her column on sustainable home improvement appears monthly in Home.

For someone such as myself, the economics of installing a solar power system don't make much sense. Generally speaking, the more electricity you use, the more money solar will save you and the faster the system will pay itself off. Let's just say you're a regular person or even an irregular person who uses a lot more electricity than the norm. What next?

You call a solar installer -- or, preferably, three -- and get some estimates. Again, I found the CPUC website ( www.gosolarcalifornia.com) to be an excellent resource. It provides a database of registered installers who can be searched by name, area code, city or ZIP Code.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 05, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Solar panels: A photo caption with a Home section article Saturday about residential solar panels said that the panels pictured at a Monrovia house were installed by Exterior Specialty Construction of Sunland. The panels, which were part of the home's patio cover, were installed by La Crescenta-based Phat Energy after Exterior Specialty Construction built the supporting structure. Also, the photograph of the patio cover should have credited Phat Energy, not Exterior Specialty Construction.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 08, 2008 Home Edition Home Part F Page 2 Features Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Solar panels: A caption with a Home section article Saturday about residential solar panels said that the panels pictured at a Monrovia house were installed by Exterior Specialty Construction of Sunland. The panels, which were part of the home's patio cover, were installed by La Crescenta-based Phat Energy after Exterior Specialty Construction built the supporting structure. Also, the photograph of the patio cover should have credited Phat Energy, not Exterior Specialty Construction.

Even though the math didn't work for me, I still had two installers come over and assess my site. Big dreams die hard, you know, and I'd been dreaming about a solar power conversion for years.

I was hoping to be convinced to Do the Right Thing, if only from a purely environmental standpoint, but both installers confirmed that solar just wasn't in the cards for me. First, the roof of my house doesn't point south. A south-facing roof is important to gather the sun's rays effectively as it tracks across the sky; it also makes the mounting of the solar panels a lot less complicated. My roof was pointing south-ish, but there was an even bigger problem: shade.

Just because a roof looks sunny -- as mine did to me -- doesn't mean it can catch enough rays to turn them into energy. There are often issues with nearby structures or, in my case, trees.

I had three major offenders -- a ficus in my backyard, an avocado in my neighbor's and some other beautiful, old-growth monster, the variety of which I do not know, that belonged to another neighbor.

I would've had to lop 10 feet off my own tree, then persuade my neighbors to do something similar. Even if tree-trimming expenses and neighbor relations weren't issues, "The Lorax" is one of my favorite books of all time. Hacking away the trees just wasn't going to happen.

What if . . .

But let's just say that I was proceeding with the solar install. What would have happened next is paperwork. And lots of it. The installer and I would've filled out a Reservation Request Form and submitted it to my local utility, the DWP.

The form would have mapped out my system, including how much electricity it was expected to generate, and reserved my rebate from the $30 million the utility sets aside each year.

The form takes about four weeks to approve, at which point I would've been ready to proceed. I would have applied for a permit from L.A.'s Building and Safety Department, a process that also can take several weeks. The actual installation takes less time.

After that, the DWP sends out an inspector, Building and Safety does the same and -- voila -- your system is cookin'. You may have to wait for your cash back from the utility, but every time you check the mailbox, you also can check your electricity meter and comfort yourself with the sight of seeing it run backward.

Or if, like me, solar just isn't possible at your house, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that: 1) other people installing solar panels at their homes helps to reduce energy costs and bring down the price of solar for everyone; 2) more affordable technologies and community-based incentives are in the pipeline; and 3) the utilities themselves are making strides. If they hit their targets, renewable energy will make up 35% of the electricity used in L.A. by 2020.

--

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How much to switch?

Based on figures from the California Public Utility Commission website's Clean Power Estimator, this analysis shows the expense of installing solar power for an average L.A. household, which spends $674 annually on electricity. Incentives from the Department of Water and Power and an increased federal tax credit lower the net cost.

System cost: $36,000

Incentives:

L.A. DWP rebate: $15,640

Federal tax credit: $10,800

Net cost: $9,560

--Susan Carpenter

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