Let The Sunshine In

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When he was in high school, David Breitenbach did a paper on the benefits of solar energy. But it wasn’t until this month that the now Verona homeowner was able to put those beliefs in action, when he and his wife Joanna had 26 solar panels installed atop their Woodland Avenue home.

Verona has a solar-powered mortuary, Prout Funeral Parlor on Bloomfield Avenue. There are solar panels on the Verona Community Center, the municipal garage off Ozone Avenue and on the wastewater treatment plant at Commerce Court. When the Verona Pool’s main building was renovated two years ago, the roof was switched from flat to pitched in anticipation of installing solar panels there, too. But the Breitenbachs are the first purely residential solar installation in Verona.

The changing economics of solar could put this alternative energy option within reach of more Verona homeowners. When Bob Prout installed his panels in 2006, the cost was $340,000 for the 114 panels, or nearly $3,000 per panel. With the incentives then available from the state of New Jersey and Public Service Electric & Gas, Prout anticipated a payback of seven or eight years.The Breitenbachs spent just $36,000 on 26 panels, or less than $1,400 per panel. Better still, the market incentives for solar power are now so strong that David Breitenbach expects his installation to pay for itself in just four years. Though in his eyes, it’s already worth a lot more.

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“No matter how you value your house,” he says, “if you put it next to a house that doesn’t have solar, yours will be worth more.”

Here’s the new math on solar power. While solar panel costs have fallen sharply during the recession, the Breitenbach’s installation cost what it did because they opted for top-of-the line high output panels. The federal government will give them a deduction of one-third of their installation cost on their taxes next year.

The Breitenbach's indoor monitor

Then come the other incentives. Shortly after Prout installed its panels, PSE&G switched from a rebate system paired with solar energy credits that could be traded on an open market to a system of tradeable credits alone. People who install solar systems now get one solar renewable energy credit–SREC for short–for every 1,000 kilowatts of power in their system. The market price for an SREC has jumped from $160 per credit in 2004 to $612.16 in December 2010, which means that the Breitenbachs will earn $3,600 a year from their installation for the next 15 years–or more, if SREC prices continue their upward climb. Add to that the fact that they will save $1,200 on their yearly electricity costs (their system covers about 50% of their electricity needs), and you have a pretty convincing argument in favor of alternative energy.

The Breitenbachs get a clear reminder of that every day. Their solar panels, installed by the Solar Center of Rockaway, N.J.,  came with a nifty little meter that shows, during every hour of daylight, how much solar energy they are producing. And even on a cold, overcast and snowy winter New Jersey day, the meter was running in their favor.

UPDATE: After we published this story, we got a clarification from Bob Prout about his installation. “While I was approved for a $340,000.00 system in late 2004, we opted to put in a smaller system (114 panels – 17.4 kWh), which was installed in July
2005 . The total cost of the 2005 project was $157,685.00. With a rebate from the state of $84,600.00, my out of pocket expense was $73,085.00. I also received a 30% tax credit, dollar for dollar, and have been selling the SRECs, as well. System paid for itself this past June. I took more of the state grant in April of 2009 to install an additional 36 panels on the rear fence.”

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We now receive about 95% of our power onsite.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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