SALT LAKE CITY — Installing solar panels may finally be cheap enough to pay for themselves, thanks to an innovative community program.
The folks who live here have wanted solar power for years because they wanted to be friendly to the environment. But they always figured they couldn't afford it; until they heard about this program, the Community Solar Project, which totally changed the equation.
The project brings people together to negotiate a discount from a competitive solar installer — like Groupon for clean energy, the organizers say.
"By leveraging group purchasing power, Salt Lake Community Solar helps reduce the up-front cost of residential solar energy, while also simplifying the solar process," said Sara Baldwin for Salt Lake Community Solar. "Ultimately, the aim is to enable more citizens to choose clean energy for their homes."
Marilyn Marshall always tries to save energy to lower her impact on CO2 emissions and air quality.
Now she and her husband have taken the big step: installing solar panels. They should provide about 85 percent of the home's electricity. It cost just over $19,000, but a 30 percent federal tax credit will return about 6,000 of that. The community solar program made it possible.
"My husband had looked at it, I think, about five or six years ago and it was probably another $10,000 or $15,000," said Marshall.
The cost cutting is possible because the contractor gets supplies and equipment cheaper when he buys in bulk. The contractor also saves money because he doesn't have to advertise and recruit customers. The steering committee delivers customers in bulk.
The customers benefit from substantially lower electric bills.
"When you invest in solar technology, you're locking in lower energy prices for the next 25 or 30 years," Baldwin said.
The Marshalls figure they'll save nearly a thousand dollars a year on electric bills, earning back the installation cost in 10 or 15 years. The lower electric bill is a hedge against the volatile energy market.
"We expect the energy price to go up and this will help cover us," Marshall said.
The current pilot program in the Salt Lake Valley expires Sept. 21, but the hope is eventually they'll make it permanent and on an even bigger scale.