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Solar power is now cheaper in the Vail Valley

Bill Sepmeier and Matthew Charles
Vail, CO, Colorado

If you wanted to have a heated outdoor pool or snow melt the driveway of your new home in Eagle County, you probably had a choice to make ” install a renewable energy system to cover 51 percent of the energy needed to do the job or pay a fine to Eagle County’s “ECO-Build” program.

As of this month, though, the folks who chose to install new snow melting and pool heating systems over the past year without using renewable energy for these luxuries began to see their ECO-Build fines spent to help pay for solar electric and solar hot water systems for the rest of us.

But wait, there’s more! If you now have an electric water heater and are a Holy Cross Energy customer, an added incentive from that company could make replacing your old electric water heater with a hybrid electric solar hot water system almost as free as the sunshine that powers it!

Below is a rundown of the new incentives for renewable energy systems available to residents of Eagle County:

Hot water

Holy Cross Energy’s new solar thermal rebate program will pay $1,500 per solar collector to customers who add solar power to their water heating systems, with a cap of $6,000 per system. If you now use electricity to heat water, which amounts to about 25 percent of an average home’s energy costs, you can add solar ” keeping your existing water heater in some cases, or replacing it with an inexpensive new hybrid solar-electric water heater in others.

A typical family of four uses about 100 gallons of hot water a day, the majority of which can be provided by two or three small roof-top solar thermal collectors and stored in the new convenient hybrid solar /electric water heater. It’s hybrid since there will always be cloudy days. The electric element makes sure you’re never without hot water when you want it.

Recent “solar pumping station” and integrated controller products from several well-known plumbing manufacturers combine the needed solar and tank circulator pumps, a super-efficient, long-life stainless steel “flat-plate” heat exchanger, the system expansion tank and all gauges and interior plumbing fittings into a small package that can be quickly installed on a “four-port” solar-electric hybrid water heater in even some of the smallest equipment areas. If you can fit a regular electric water heater into the room, you can probably add solar with these new integrated systems.

Two small pipes and a couple of solar collectors on the roof connect to the new solar pumping station to complete the system. In many cases the whole job can be done in less than a couple of days if the solar collector plumbing route is relatively direct.

There are a few rules: ECO-Build’s rebates apply to systems that augment space heating while Holy Cross will only help pay for the system that provides domestic hot water. ECO’s rebates will combine with Holy Cross’ rebates, but only to the degree that 50 percent of the system’s cost is offset. In other words, if Holy Cross’ rebates cut your solar thermal system cost by 50 percent, you can’t receive more from the county.

To qualify for the ECO rebate, solar collectors have to be unshaded and properly oriented at the southern sky to receive maximum sun, too; you can’t just staple them on a north face and expect to get the cash. Don’t laugh ” Solar thermal systems will actually work pretty well in “off-axis” mounts, but ECO will only pay when they’re spot-on.

Insulation

Eagle County’s ECO Rebates will also pay for 50 percent of the cost of insulation

upgrades to your home here, up to $500. Since good insulation is the most important part of home comfort and can save its weight in gold on energy costs, this should be the first incentive local homeowners take advantage of. The county has a list of participating insulation contractors available through the ECO-Build offices.

Solar electric

While Holy Cross Energy and Xcel Energy have been providing solar electric system owners cash rebates for some time, Eagle County’s new ECO-Build rebates make these systems a lot more affordable. For example, the average cost of an installed two-kilowatt solar system is around $10 per watt locally, but with ECO and Holy Cross rebates and the $2,000 federal tax credit still available, the actual cost of the average 2kW system falls by 50 percent! If you live in Xcel Energy’s service area, solar system hardware costs drop yet another $2.50 per approved watt, bringing the total cost to produce solar electricity to under $3.80 per watt, installed.

A typical 2kW photovoltaic system generates about 300 kilowatt hours of energy per month. With these new cash rebates, solar PV will lock in that portion of your electricity costs at about a dime per kilowatt hour over the 20-plus year life of the system. With electricity rising at about 6 percent per year, owning your own “pre-paid” solar power at this low, fixed rate is an asset that adds value to your home and business, and will preserve your lifestyle in these changing times.

Eagle County’s ECO rebates are 33 percent more for solar photovoltaic systems ($3 per watt) installed on deed-restricted and price-capped affordable housing (where affordable energy is most needed).

Time is money. While the ECO rebates may be extended, they will expire at the end of this year. Unless Congress extends the Federal Investment Tax Credit for solar installations, it will expire at the same time.

Complete information about the new Holy Cross Energy solar hot water system rebates and Eagle County’s new ECO-Build cash rebates are available from your local solar professionals and online. If you’ve looked at solar before, but found the cost a little high, these new cash rebates should make you look again, before your local solar installers have filled up their summer installation schedules.

Now it really is time to learn about the latest solar technology and how you can let the sun warm and power your mountain life! This is, indeed, good news for a change!

Bill Sepmeier is chief technical officer and Matthew Charles is marketing director for Grid Feeders in Eagle-Vail. To learn more, go to http://www.gridfeeders.com, or call 1-800-331-2295.


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