Vail Valley Voices: Best solar rebates in nation | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Voices: Best solar rebates in nation

Adam Palmer
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

The first time my family turned on our solar energy system and watched the little metal wheel on my electric meter spin backwards, I stood in awe.

Our ability to harvest the abundant supply of clean energy from the sun is truly amazing. There has never been a better time to put this technology to work.

Eagle County now offers solar rebates that when combined with other incentives, put our local rebates among the best in the nation.

Not only is investing in solar energy good for the environment and our local economy, it’s an investment that will continue to pay favorable returns over the life of the system.

Some say that you shouldn’t do solar until you’ve made your home efficient. Their point is that energy efficiency has a better payback than renewables. Generally, this is true.

However, a study done by the National Park Service revealed that buildings installed with solar systems demonstrated a 30 percent reduction in energy use. This is not taking into consideration any production of the solar system, and zero energy efficiency retrofits were done. The reduction was only from human behavior changes that took place after the solar system went in. The point is energy conservation drives the viability of a renewable system, and vise versa.

To this end, I recommend doing both. Yes, get an energy audit. Put in compact fluorescent bulbs, programmable thermostats and efficient appliances. Eliminate your phantom loads (little lights and DC converters that are always “on”).

Rather than using heat tape to mitigate ice dams on your roof, upgrade your insulation to eliminate the potential in the first place. Source Gas now offers a great insulation rebate, 50 percent of the cost up to $500 per home. Go to http://www.sourcegas.com for more info.

Focus on the “negawatts” (negated energy demand through conservation) as well as renewable energy.

For no other reason, do it for the economy. Energy costs are our primary economic leak. Every penny spent on electricity, natural gas, propane and fuel is money that leaves our community and goes elsewhere.

Conversely, every penny saved through energy conservation or generated from local renewables stays here, creating local, green collar jobs.

Here’s an example: A two-kilowatt solar system may cost somewhere around $15,000.

Eagle County rebate ($2/watt): $4,000.

Holy Cross rebate ($2/watt): $4,000 .

A 30 percent IRS tax credit on the remaining cost of the system: $2,100.

Final cost after rebates/credits: $4,900.

The system would meet around half of an average household electricity needs, offsetting around $350 per year in energy costs. Simple math would yield a straight 14-year payback.

However, taking into account expected energy price increases, this payback would be closer to 10-12 years. Of course the system is an asset on the home, which appraises higher than its net present value due to the projected future energy production.

If you live in deed-restricted affordable housing, the Eagle County rebate bumps up to $3/watt, giving you a $5/watt rebate incentive when added to the Holy Cross rebate.

If you live in Minturn, the $3.50/watt Xcel rebate combined with Eagle County’s $2/watt gives you a $5.50 per watt incentive.

But it gets even better if you live in El Jebel/Basalt, where CORE (Community Office for Resource Efficiency) offers an additional $2/watt rebate on top of the already generous Eagle County and Holy Cross rebates, you earn a $6/watt up-front rebate which, to my knowledge, is the best solar rebate hotspot in the country.

For commercial, wind, micro-hydro and other projects, Eagle County offers a quarterly ECOGreen Community Grant. Visit http://www.eaglecounty.us and go to the ECOBuild page for more information; the next application deadline is June 30. All funding for the incentives and community grant come from fees collected through the ECOBuild program and can only be used for renewable energy and efficiency in Eagle County.

Eagle County has focused efforts internally, setting a goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emission 50 percent by 2020. The county is planning a 1-megawatt solar covered parking project at the airport, a 4-megawatt solar farm at the landfill in Wolcott, in addition to adding smaller-scale systems on the Old Courthouse building, Miller Ranch Community Center, Eagle County Justice Center (photovoltaic and solar thermal) and the El Jebel campus.

We have begun comprehensive energy efficiency improvements through an energy performance contract that will save over $100,000 per year in energy costs.

Renewables or efficiency? Do both. Do it now.

Adam Palmer is the environmental policy planner for Eagle County and administers the Eco-Build program, solar rebates and sustainability initiatives. He can be reached at 328-8734 or adam.palmer@eaglecounty.us.