Solar power rebate program begins around Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - As the sun shines down on the solar panels newly installed on her roof, Elizabeth "Zib" Babbitt knows her home will benefit from the energy produced by the sun's rays.

Babbitt is the first person in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., to participate in a solar panel installation pilot program in the area that offers rebates to customers. On Tuesday, panels were installed at her house by Golden Sierra Power. The whole system will be running in a few days, she said.

"Solar panels have been my goal for this house," Babbitt said. Thanks to a new state law, she will also receive a five-figure discount on the cost of the installation.

Lake Tahoe is a great place for solar power because of the elevation, temperature and the high number of sunny days. The perfect direction for a roof to be facing is south, said CEO Mark Johnson of Golden Sierra Power.

Babbitt's house in South Lake is an ideal location for solar panels. The roof faces southwest and the area isn't forested, so shade isn't a problem, she said.

Babbitt's house will serve as a model program for upcoming local systems, Johnson said.

Soon to follow is the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, which will implement a solar rebate program as of the first of the year, said General Services Manager Alan Harry on Friday.

"We hope it will provide customers with the incentive to utilize solar power," said Harry. "It will be for residential, commercial, and nonprofit buildings."

Representatives from Solar Wind Works in Truckee say they are looking forward to collaborating on the district program by installing, designing and customizing solar panels for local residents.

I'm excited to see how the program will (develop)," said sales and installation staff member Matthew Kroeninger. "I think its phenomenal that the PUD has stepped up."

Solar Wind Works in Truckee, however, will not use Babbitt's South Shore house as a model. The company has installed solar panels in Tahoe Donner and other Truckee-Tahoe locations, and can provide customers with examples of their work, Kroeninger said.

"We like to build custom systems based on design principles, aesthetics, and other client preferences," said Kroeninger. "We don't use cookie cutter designs because we believe that every (solar panel) system will depend on the site."

Babbitt's house location in South Lake wasn't the only good reason for joining the pilot program.

"She stepped up," said Golden Sierra's Johnson. She wanted to do it, and she had the money. People need the rebates so they can afford to do this, he said.

The price for the whole project was $23,000 but Babbitt will have to pay only $14,000 with the rebate she is receiving, which is the first of its kind for California customers, she said. The panels will last 25 years, Babbitt added.

According to Sierra Pacific's Solar Generations Web site, the maximum rebate is $15,000. These rebates will be available until the end of the year but are on a first-come, first-served basis and are limited by available funding. Installation costs can run from $10,000-$50,000 depending on the home.

An income-tax incentive also is offered to individuals who install solar panels in their home, Johnson said.

For her bill, Babbitt said she will be on a net metering agreement, which means when she is storing electricity, the meter will run backward. She will only have to pay for the electricity she uses, which will be less than what she is paying now, she said.

Right now, she pays between 12.1 and 17.1 cents per kilowatt-hour, but with the solar panels, she'll be paying 8 to 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

According to Kroeninger, Truckee residents involved with the solar rebate program will be on a similar net metering agreement.

"We're all influenced by the green revolution and it has a huge impact up here in Truckee," said Kroeninger. "This is great for the environment, and it makes sense."


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