Solar bargains hit home

A crew installs solar panels on a home in West Ashley. (provided)

Sunnier summer days ahead might have more to offer South Carolinians than beach trips and backyard barbecues. They could bring big savings on power bills.

That’s because legislation passed last year makes it much easier — and more profitable — for the state’s residents to install solar panels on their homes and businesses.

And that law, worked out between electrical utilities and environmental groups earlier this year, ensures that people who generate excess solar power can sell that power back to the utility at a one-to-one rate.

With such powerful new financial incentives, solar power isn’t just an environmentally responsible option. It’s an economically responsible one as well.

And a new initiative called Solarize South Carolina seeks to make the process of installing residential or commercial solar power systems as painless as possible. Solarize partners with vetted local solar panel installers to connect them with potential customers and offers zero down loans through a specialized lender to help cover the cost.

Through intensive community campaigns, Solarize has helped exponentially increase solar panel ownership in other states.

In Connecticut, for example, Solarize-assisted installations jumped six-fold in a two-year period compared to single digit increases in independent installations.

But there are plenty of other options available for Lowcountry residents considering going solar.

Some companies allow customers to lease panels, with monthly payments often less than half the average electrical bill.

And even without a loan or a panel leasing program, South Carolina and federal tax credits make solar power an attractive option comparable to other major investments like buying a car or renovating a kitchen. State law offers residential solar generators tax credits of 25 percent of the system cost, up to $3,500 per year, and federal law offers a 30 percent tax credit.

Based on the average cost of a residential solar power system, most customers could break even within about eight years.

Considering that most systems can last for up to 30 years, they can end up turning a profit for many homeowners.

And the economic advantages ultimately pale in comparison to the environmental value of reducing dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

While South Carolina generates only about half of its electricity from coal and natural gas — the other half comes from nuclear — every watt of cleaner energy from a home rooftop can make a huge difference.

Thanks to forward-thinking laws passed by state leaders and the efforts of environmental groups, non-profits, private businesses and electrical utilities, that option is now open to a lot more South Carolinians.