Going solar in Lockport  

Jim Shultz

It is official, I have a solar-powered coffee grinder. I also have a solar-powered clothes washer and clothes dryer. I have a solar-powered machine that washes my dishes while I work at my solar-powered computer. Oh yeah, our air conditioning, too. On Monday afternoon, with the flick of two switches, our house began generating electricity from a dozen solar panels on our roof.

Here is what it’s like, economics included, to go solar.

How a solar-powered house works

No, you don’t have a giant battery in your basement and you don’t have electricity if there is a power outage. The solar panels on our roof are connected to the power grid, essentially turning NYSEG into an energy bank. During the day when the panels are generating power we are making a deposit. At night and on days in winter when we aren’t generating as much we are making withdrawals. Solar Liberty, the company that sold us our system (the City of Lockport’s official solar partner), looks at your energy use for the past year and designs you a system calculated to produce what you need and 10% more so you have some extra. Our family is frugal with energy so we can power our three-bedroom house with 12 panels. People who use more electricity will need more panels.

How much it costs

What the system costs and what it costs you are very different things because of the substantial tax incentives available. The total cost for our system, with full installation and a complete 25-year guarantee, came in at $13,400. Once the various federal and state tax incentives are factored in we will pay less than half the cost, about $6,000. Solar Liberty also has an arrangement with a bank that gave us a one-year, no-interest loan to cover the part we will get back in taxes next year. We will never have to pay a dime of that part, not even upfront.

What does $6,000 buy us? From now on our monthly electric bill will be about $15, the standard NYSEG fee that everyone already pays to be hooked up to the grid. Based on our current energy use we should recover all our costs in eight to nine years and after that we will be getting electricity for free from the sun. If we sell our house, according to a national analysis, all that free electricity should increase the sale price by about 5%.

But imagine the other possibilities. My friend Kenneth, the steward of the Lockport Nature Trail, is living my dream. He has an electric car, solar-powered by the panels on his roof!

The environmental benefits

Being environmentalists, reducing our use of dirty energy was a big part of our family’s motivation for going solar. I have a granddaughter about to turn 2 and I’ve seen the projections of what fossil fuels and climate change are going to do to her future. Here in Lockport we get most of our electricity from hydropower generated by Niagara Falls. The effect of switching our house to solar means that we are freeing up more of that clean energy to replace dirty fossil-fuel power in places like New York City.

Our solar conversion means that each year we will be dumping about 6,600 pounds less of climate-altering carbon into Earth’s atmosphere. That’s the same as driving 7,500 fewer miles in our car, not bad.

Learn about solar — and help Lockport CARES

Solar Liberty has a deal. If a person I refer to them meets with their salesman the company offers me a $25 reward. If that person buys a system, the company offers a $250 reward. So I have made a deal with the company. All the money from every referral they get off this column will go not to me (not a dime of it) but to Lockport CARES, our local homeless shelter. So it’s simple: Give Solar Liberty a call (716-634-3780) and have them do a free analysis of your home and an estimate of what it would cost and what you can save. You might just decide to do it and even if you don’t, you will generate a much-needed $25 donation to Lockport CARES and to people in our community who need our help. Just be sure to mention this article.

“Now is the time to take advantage of these big tax incentives that give you your tax dollars back,” says Nate VerHague of Solar Liberty. “The way to do that is to get a custom quote for your home and your usage.”

What do you have in your house that you could power with the sun?

Jim Shultz, founder and executive director of the Democracy Center, is a father and grandfather in Lockport. He can be reached by email at: jimshultz@democracyctr.org. He has a solar-powered coffee grinder!