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Discovering a new solar system

September 06, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

When Dan Murphy had his two-story house built in the late 1990s, it was a happy coincidence that the roof sloped due south.

During recent years, Murphy became concerned about conserving energy and preparing for widespread power outages such as those following the Sept. 11 attacks or natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. He also wanted to be a good role model for his children.

He'd been taking small steps toward conservation, such as using window treatments wisely to conserve heat or cool the house, unplugging unused appliances, and replacing hot incandescent light bulbs with cooler compact fluorescent bulbs during the last two years.

Murphy wanted to take the next step, a big one - solar panels. He just had to figure out the payments and sell his wife on the project.

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With a $35,000 price tag, it took Murphy a year to convince his wife it was a good investment.

"(The cost) was a scary thing. That was probably the last point I told my wife," said Murphy, who was quick to also point out tax credits and a state grant to recoup much of the cost.

"Obviously the cost was a concern for me," Jodi Murphy said. But since the Murphys became parents, they've become more environmentally conscious. Now that she's seen the return on the power bill, it's been rewarding, not just financially but because it's beneficial environmentally.

Dollars and sense

The solar panels were installed by Standard Solar in April and already the family has noticed a difference in their electric bills.

His monthly electric bill before the solar panels averaged $211. Now it averages $183 (a 13-percent reduction) with his last bill at $173.

Their Allegheny Power bill for 32 days ending Aug. 18 showed 61 kilowatt hours were used. This bill stemmed from an actual reading of their electric meter. Despite the mild weather, Dan Murphy has kept the windows closed the past two months and has been using the house's central air to cool the house - part of his experiment to see the results of different usage patterns.

A year ago, for 29 days ending Aug. 14, 2007, their bill showed 89 kilowatt hours were used. This bill stemmed from an estimate. During this period the Murphys also used central air.

Once he's done experimenting and has all his conservation practices in place along with the solar panel energy, Murphy expects to save 50 percent in energy usage costs during the spring and fall.

That's one more reason for the solar panels.

Allegheny customers who are participating in the rate stabilization program have experienced 15 percent rate increases in June 2007 and January 2008. The same rate increases are planned for January 2009 and January 2010, Allegheny spokesman Todd Meyers said. The fee customers began seeing on their bills in June 2007 is an overcharge that is generating interest so that money can be used to keep the rate increases at 15 percent for the first couple years the rate cap is lifted, Meyers said. Allegheny's rate stabilization plan increases rates gradually so participating customers don't face sticker shock when state-mandated caps come off electric rates Jan. 1.

Anticipating future shortages

Another concern is the future supply of power.

Last year, the Maryland Public Service Commission presented a report to the Maryland General Assembly on the future of the state's electric supply and population growth. The report said, "... Unless steps are taken now, the State of Maryland faces a critical shortage of electricity capacity that could force mandatory usage restrictions, such as rolling blackouts, by 2011 or 2012."

Allegheny is attempting to prevent that with plans for a new high-voltage transmission line connecting southeast West Virginia to Frederick County, Md.

It pays to go solar

After a grant, tax credits and renewable energy credits, the Murphys expect the $35,000 solar panel system to cost them $12,000 to $18,000, Murphy said.

The Maryland Energy Administration has already spent its $591,000 budget for solar and geothermal grants for residential residents for this fiscal year, according to an agency news release. Under the program, residents who install qualified solar power systems are eligible for up to a $10,000 grant. As of this week, 42 people were on the waiting list for grants.

Murphy received a $3,000 grant. He also expects a $2,000 federal tax refund for the system.

Through the Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, the Murphys could receive an estimated $15,000 over 15 years, said Christian May, director of business development for Gaithersburg, Md.-based Standard Solar. The program requires electricity suppliers like Allegheny Power to use renewable energy sources, including solar energy, to generate a certain portion of their retail sales. One way power companies can do this is to buy, through a third-party, renewable energy credits from homeowners with solar panels.

Solar system

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