Rebates make solar energy more affordable |

Rebates make solar energy more affordable

Bill Sepmeier and Matthew Charles
Vail, CO, Colorado

Sunshine is free, but harnessing its boundless energy takes a few bucks.

If you’ve kept up with global warming issues or at least seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” the real question probably isn’t “What’s the cost of going solar?” but “What’s the cost if we don’t?”

After all, if the world’s climate scientists are even half-right, continued unabated use of fossil fuels will render our planet almost inhabitable within a couple of generations. A lot of things have to be done to change things for the better; solar energy on every home in America would go a long way toward slowing down what is quickly shaping up to be a devastating change in the world’s climate.

To date, the federal government has allocated nearly $1 trillion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s 1,000 billion dollars, most all of it borrowed at 5 percent interest from the Chinese and Japanese.

With the same $1 trillion, our government could have purchased and installed rooftop solar photovoltaic systems to provide 50 percent of the annual electricity consumption on some 40 million American homes ” more than half of all the homes in this country.

So, for the cost of the past four years’ occupation of Iraq, our government could have reduced the nation’s consumption of costly, dirty fossil-fuel energy, forever, by more than 25 percent. Additionally, millions of new, long-term, high-paying jobs could have been created. Today’s solar industry needs nearly 400,000 workers according to industry surveys. Imagine the job growth that growing solar from under 2 percent of total power generation to 20 percent would create.

Solar rebates

Fortunately, solar energy system buyers do receive some assistance in offsetting the cost of going green.

Local utilities Holy Cross Energy and Xcel Energy offer cash rebates for solar photovoltaic system purchases, both private and commercial, between $2 to $4.50 per DC watt.

If you live in the Roaring Fork Valley, Aspen’s Community Office for Renewable Energy will write you a check for an additional $2 per watt, or will pay the interest on a loan used to purchase a renewable energy system. According to Adam Palmer, the director of Eagle County’s new ECO-Build program, which now mandates minimum “green” specifications for new construction, ECO-Build will also begin awarding $2 per watt rebates for solar and other renewable energy projects that exceed minimum program requirements.

The ECO-Build program is funded by the fees collected from people who choose to pay a penalty instead of employing a renewable energy system to help offset energy expenditures. ECO-Build fees can be significant. Several proposed second home projects in our area are facing more than $100,000 in fees due to large-area snowmelting, which requires huge amounts of energy to operate.

At the federal level, incentives for homeowners include a federal tax credit against other income totaling 30 percent of the cost of such systems, but with a cap of $2,000. Depending upon the size of the system installed, this incentive alone could be worth between 10 to 25 percent of the total system cost.

Advantages for commercial property

Commercial applications of solar electricity don’t have the federal cap; 30 percent of the total cost is fully credited at tax time. Additionally, commercial solar installations can be depreciated fully in just five years if the entire 30 percent credit isn’t taken. A commercial building owner can install a large solar photovoltaic system on his or her structure and, through a combination of building value appreciations, rebates from electric utilities and proper application of federal tax incentives, see the new system pay for itself in as little as three to four years ” a return on investment that is without equal in the world of renewables.

Solar hot water systems qualify for the same federal tax credits ” up to $2,000 for individuals and 30 percent of cost for commercial property. Solar thermal system hardware is typically less expensive than solar electric systems, but installation costs can be higher if one doesn’t shop carefully, since some local plumbing firms bill as much per hour as local emergency room physicians. Unfortunately, there has been little movement in rebate payment by the gas and electric utilities for solar thermal systems, although heating water is the largest use of energy in the typical U.S. home and a good solar thermal system can easily cut this consumption by 70 percent.

Solar systems providers can discuss the incentives, rebates, cash costs and returns on investment of a solar system for your business or home in great detail. You can get a good start on learning about all of the solar and renewable power incentives available state by state online at

There are many things that are more important to our society than the money we will

save or gain by installing a renewable energy system. Our children, for example, will be paying back the dollars we as a society borrow today and will pay a much higher price to reclaim a devastated natural environment. If we can afford to go green and don’t, we must answer to them. And we’ll be doing just that at about the same time as they’re choosing our nursing homes.

Bill Sepmeier is the chief technical officer and Matthew Charles is a design and sales specialist for Grid Feeders, a renewable energy firm in Eagle-Vail. For more information, call 688-4347, or go to

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