2009 Solar Home Tour

October is National Energy Awareness month and this year’s theme is “A Sustainable Energy Future; Putting All the Pieces Together.” The idea is to encourage everyone to see how they fit into the big picture. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, “No matter how large the problem may appear, the fact remains that each of us is a part of the solution. Every day, each of us makes decisions that can stimulate sustainability and a new energy economy.” It sounds as if they may have borrowed those lines from one of my earlier columns!

There are a lot of pieces to the energy picture. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Southern Nevada Solar Home Tour will take place on Saturday, October 3 and that’s no coincidence. It’s a part of the American Solar Energy Society’s 14th annual National Solar Tour, the world’s largest grassroots solar event. Last year’s tour was attended by over 140,000 people in over 3,000 communities across the country.

This year’s local tour will offer an opportunity to meet some of the folks in our community who have implemented efficiency, green building and solar energy into their daily lives. They have graciously offered to share their experiences and ideas about solar energy and what it took to make it happen.

The self-guided tour starts at 9 AM at the Springs Preserve. You can register at www.solarnv.org.

Another piece of the picture is financial since for most of us, initial cost is the biggest hurdle. Recent legislation is aimed at creating more options for homeowners. In the meantime, the 30% federal tax credit is a valuable incentive.

Nevada has additional incentives for NV Energy customers in the form of a rebate, sort of. The SolarGenerations program has been active for several years. As an early participant I am grateful for the program, but it is not without its share of issues.

On one hand, the program has resulted in approximately 2.8 megawatts of installed photovoltaic (PV) systems. It has distributed over $10 million in rebates with approximately 450 completed projects. Over 400 homeowners have participated in the program. This is a positive step in the right direction, but it’s a drop in the ocean when compared to the necessary scale dictated by climate change.

On the other hand, the SolarGenerations program is currently stalled while being reworked and no applications will be accepted in 2009. Rebate amounts have fallen over the years and will continue to decrease. Applicants often face a significant waiting period with no guarantee of a rebate. Applications are usually accepted beginning on a specific date and time, causing a state-wide rush that results in a yearly program that is over-subscribed within a few short hours.

If you aren’t quick enough on the keyboard, or if there’s glitch with the program’s website, you are put on a waiting list. That wouldn’t be so bad if you knew it was only a matter of time before you got to the top of the list, but wait, there’s more. At the end of each year, the waiting list is now purged. No matter when you get in line, you might still have to start all over from scratch the following year! This makes it virtually impossible to plan a clean energy strategy based on a rebate from NV Energy.

That’s why many folks are now moving ahead without the rebate. System costs have recently come down significantly. The $2,000 residential cap on the 30% federal tax credit is gone. Eliminating the delay and uncertainty of waiting for a phantom rebate means that the system is producing valuable energy right away, saving thousands of dollars that would have been lost otherwise.

You are a part of the big picture and whatever path you choose, there is a way forward toward a clean energy future. I hope to see you there.

Green Living column for Thursday, September 24, 2009, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Solar tour first step to clean-energy strategy”