Science, Tech & Environment

Recent solar panel adopter sees success in eliminating electric bill

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Race Traver fits solar panels on the rear side of Helen Palmer's roof, in Massachusetts. (Photo by Helen Palmer.)

Thanks to incentives and growing awareness, solar panels are becoming increasingly popular across the country.

Just over a year ago, reporter Helen Palmer had solar panels installed on the roof she shares with her neighbor in her two-family home. After rebates and incentives, the $13,000 solar panel install cost her about $6,000.

On one recent, sunny day, Palmer's home was generating 2.82 kilowatts of power.

"Overall, in the year, I’ve generated 4,683 kilowatt-hours altogether," Palmer said. "That offsets 1,389 pounds of coal."

All told, it saved her about $770 in electricity costs. So, of her initial $6,000 investment, Palmer made up about 10 percent in the first year. In fact, Palmer said she hasn't seen an electric bill since March 2012 — and she's sitting on a credit of about $43.

But it hasn't all come up roses. Palmer was hoping to get some special tax credits when she generated certain levels of electricity. Those dried up as thousands of Americans joined Palmer in going solar.

"In 2012 the U.S. added 3.3 gigawatts of solar power — that's twice as much as they put on their roofs the year before and nearly as much as the nation's largest nuclear plant can generate," she said. "So the price of the renewable energy credits dropped, as the market was flooded with folks generating clean power, the price per megawatt in Massachusetts slumped to $200. But still, in Pennsylvania, it was only $10."

But most of the installation incentives, which took out about half of Palmer's costs, remain.

"Here in the Bay State, there's a special program called Solarize Massachusetts," Palmer said. "That has lots of incentives and the governor, Deval Patrick, he just announced a new goal of 1600 megawatts on roofs by 2020."

And that's not especially unique. Many states have programs to encourage residents to put solar panels on their roofs.

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