Discounts, tax incentives fuel solar energy interest in the Carolinas

Discounts, tax incentives fuel solar energy interest in the Carolinas

Three months ago, in the backyard of the nation’s largest electric utility, a small non-profit group set out to make Charlotte a little greener.

Solarize Charlotte, part of a nationwide network of solar energy advocates, reported its results this month — hundreds of Charlotteans expressing interest in purchasing solar systems for their homes. Two dozen homeowners signed solar installation contracts and dozens more are in the consultation stage.

Already, North Carolina is among the nation’s leaders in solar capacity, but most of that comes from commercial applications.

That's changing. Charlotte-based Duke Energy says residential solar energy installations increased about 33 percent in North Carolina since 2011, with 1,700 North Carolinians taking advantage of the green energy option.

Solarize Charlotte

Solarize Charlotte’s goal was simple: Educate more homeowners, especially those in lower income neighborhoods, about the ease and affordability of solar power to their homes.

Organizers worked with a Raleigh solar contractor, the RED Group, to offer bulk discounts on solar panel installations, and homeowners also were pointed to federal and North Carolina tax credits. After discounts and credits, a typical solar power system ranged from $4,500 to $8,000, depending on the wattage homeowners required.

"For most people, cost is the biggest concern," says Michael Zytkow, a project assistant who helped recruit homeowners in the Charlotte area. "It was our goal to make it as easy as possible and help people understand the help that is available."

The effectiveness of rooftop solar energy systems in the Charlotte area does vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, depending somewhat on the tree canopy and a house's position.

Still people are choosing to try solar panels for a number of reasons, Zytkow says. "For some people, it's wanting to save money, have a choice other than Duke Energy, which has imposed three rate hikes since 2009," he says. "For others, it's part of living a lifestyle that's investing in sustainability."

Federal and state tax credits are still available for solar purchases, even for consumers who are not part of the Solarize program. If you’re interested in the financial savings and energy independence of solar, experts say you need to find the right solar panel installer and right equipment for your home.

Finding a solar panel installer

With more contractors looking to cash in on the emerging solar energy industry, consumers should thoroughly vet the company that will be installing solar panels on their rooftops.

Installers should be certified by the well-respected and established North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

The contractor also should be licensed and insured, and they should supply an ample number of references and customers willing to talk about their experience. As with any service providers, make sure they’re willing to put everything in a written contract.

Solar equipment options

Solar panels are a 25- to 30-year investment, so it’s smart to know all you can about what’s going on your roof.

Solar energy systems use technology that ranges from thin-film that’s mass-produced and more affordable, to monocrystalline solar cells that are high-performing and more expensive.

RELATED: Get the most out of your solar panel investment

A reputable installer can help explain your options and determine the best system for your home. Make sure, however, that your solar panels are UL listed, and if a particular option seems far less expensive than others, quality might be an issue.

A high-performing solar energy system also needs quality roof attachments and electric wiring that’s performed by a licensed electrician. Don’t cut corners, especially on an investment of this size.

Thinking about going solar? Consider these solar panel pros and cons.

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SolSource Inc. employees install solar panels on top of a homeowner’s garage. (Photo courtesy of Seth Masia)
SolSource Inc. employees install solar panels on top of a homeowner’s garage. (Photo courtesy of Seth Masia)

Solar panels a popular home improvement for energy-efficiency minded homeowners who want to take advantage of natural source of energy and local, state and federal credits.

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