Traverse City Record-Eagle

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August 26, 2013

Energy task force goes solar

NORTHPORT — A Leelanau County group focused on renewable energy says advances in technology have made rooftop solar arrays an affordable option for homeowners.

Some 40 Northport residents filled Leelanau Township Fire Hall’s meeting room Aug. 19 to hear the latest update on renewable energy from members of the Northport Energy Action Task Force, a local non-profit that encourages the use of renewable energy.

Tom Gallery, an engineer and owner of Leelanau Solar, and Steve Smiley, an energy economist with Smiley Energy Services and Leelanau Solar, tried to debunk the myths that there are not enough solar energy resources, solar energy costs too much and the technology is not ready.

“Solar technology is ready,” Gallery said. “The cheapest and most reliable is PV (photovoltaic systems or solar panels). The cost of solar panels has dropped some 80 percent in the last few years and so has the cost of inverters and mounting racks.”

Gallery explained that an average home uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year. Installation of about 33, 260-watt panels — covering a 600-square-foot area — can cover 85 percent of that consumption.

Gallery explained the cost of installed systems is usually stated in dollars per watt. Rooftop arrays cost between $2.30 and $2.75 per watt and ground arrays cost between 2.50 to $3 per watt.

Gallery’s example costs between $23,000 and $30,000 installed, but he says that monthly savings on energy bills can offset the price. And, there are ways to finance the arrays beyond just tax credits and grants.

The systems don’t mean going “off the grid,” either. They use net metering, a system where an electric meter runs both forward and backward.

When more power is generated than a home uses, the system sends energy to the grid. The homeowner is credited at full retail price for energy sent to the grid and billed for the difference between what the system has earned and what it has used, said Gallery.

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