Monday, February 05, 2007

'Sunshine' to power rebates - Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians considering installing solar energy systems in their homes but put off by the high price could start singing "let the sun shine in" if a proposed energy initiative sees daylight.
About $200 million of the $850 million Energy Independence Fund proposed this week in Gov. Ed Rendell's Energy Independence Strategy is designated for a so-called Pennsylvania Sunshine program. It aims to jumpstart the state's commitment to have some 858 megawatts of electricity generated by the sun by 2021. One megawatt powers about 800 homes.
Under the governor's plan, homes and small businesses could receive rebates of up to half the cost of a solar power system, including a rebate if the solar power panels are manufactured in Pennsylvania. That could amount to savings of $22,000.
In addition, system manufacturers such as Solar Power Industries Inc., Belle Vernon, Fayette County, could be eligible for a production grant for all solar panels built and deployed in the state.
"We believe this could have a very positive impact on economic development," said Richard Rosey, Solar Power's vice president of marketing. "We right now are looking at a substantial increase in our manufacturing space. We're in final negotiations to lease two buildings next to our existing 60,000-square-foot facility that would double our space."
Rosey expects employment within one year to jump to more than 200 from about 120. He said sales this year are expected to double to between $30 million and $40 million. Ninety-five percent of Solar Power's business comes from overseas customers.
"There has been considerable consumer interest and demand for solar power, but the big problem has been a system's cost," said Thomas J. Tuffey, a director at environmental watchdog group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future in West Chester, Chester County.
Tuffey said an average residential system today costs about $32,000, including installation, for a system that provides 4 kilowatts of power. Subtracting the rebates proposed under Rendell's Sunshine Program, the cost drops to about half of that, he said.
"There also is a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar systems, which drops that figure by one-third," Tuffey added. The cost of a 4-kilowatt system would drop to $9,800 -- from $32,000 currently, he said.
"On average, a typical solar system today ranges between $20,000 and $30,000, and that would handle 80 percent to 90 percent of an average home's energy needs," said Rick Rothhaar, a solar engineering consultant who serves as president of the nonprofit Conservation Consultants Inc., South Side.
"I have a list of customers who are interested in solar systems at the current price," said Ann Gerace, executive director of Conservation Consultants. "I think the governor's program really could have a positive impact on people installing solar systems."

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