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Here Comes the Sun
by LISA ZHITO
First the good news: Solar panels are getting cheaper and more efficient every year. But they’re still expensive: A 4 or 5 kilowatt (kW) PV system will run you in the neighborhood of $25,000, says Steve Johnson, president of LightWave Solar. For those crunching the numbers, there are a few incentives: TVA buys the power generated at a rate of 12 cents per kWh above the base rate, which appears as a credit on your monthly electric bill. There’s also a 30 percent federal tax rebate and a $1,000 incentive from TVA when your system goes online. Beyond that, various grants for commercial and agricultural operations are available, but so far nothing for residential systems. Solar leasing, in which the cost of a PV system is shouldered by another company but homeowners get a piece of the electricity sales, has taken off out west. Stefan Partin, business manager for the Tennessee Solar Energy Association, calls it the future of solar. But the Tennessee state legislature’s threatened “solar property tax” effectively scared off anyone interested in bringing such a scheme to Tennessee.
So that means homeowners are still looking at shouldering some hefty initial costs. Alternately, you can change your perspective, says Partin. “Think of it as an investment. You can get 7-8 percent per year return on a solar system, whereas a mutual fund is 2-3 percent a year. That makes it look more attractive.” Indeed.