Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Solar energy gets affordable

Solar energy gets affordable
OTIS HART Thursday, 18 January, 2007

There's a company that wants to throw solar panels on your house and reduce your electricity bill -- for free.

Yeah, we didn't believe it at first, either. But Citizenre, a renewable energy corporation based in Delaware, looks like the real deal. Its REnU program (for Renewable Energy Unit) complements your current utility setup to take advantage of the sun's resources and reduce the juice you get from "the grid."

It also lets those of us spooked by Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" to do our small part in limiting the country's dependence on coal and natural energy sources.

Life as usual, really, only greener.

REnU rents you solar panels on a kilowatt-hour basis. You pay Citizenre whatever rate your local electricity provider charges at that time. The bonus is you're locked into that rate for the entire length of the contract, whether it be one year, five or 25. (That's how you'd actually save money.) They install the panels on your house free of charge and take care of all upkeep.

The REnU program won't be fully operational until September. It needs a state that has instituted net-metering which essentially allows you to store up energy credit. (All but nine states have passed some sort of net-metering policy...check them on the service territory at the bottom to the right from the calculator).

Citizenre CEO David Gregg is a man with a mission. The "secret" to the company is vertical integration. They plan to open a factory in the U.S. in the next few months and set up a nationwide transportation system to eliminate middlemen and dependence on state subsidies.

As of Thursday morning, 3,467 homeowners have signed up for the September launch, and over 80 percent have opted for the 25-year contract, according to Gregg.

The average retail price of electricity rose almost 12 percent between 2002 and 2005. [In southern Fl last year FP&L raised the rate %20, but the hue and cry made the PUC cut it back--4%!] Citizenre's fee doesn't change from the moment you sign up. So, if the electricity rate continues to rise over the next 25 years, you won't feel the pinch.

But aside from the potential cost savings, users will reduce the amount of fossil fuel required to power their houses.

"Conceptually, the idea of making an energy service available is done on a commercial basis," said Cecile Warner, principal engineer of the National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Residential customers have had options to buy renewable energy, but this is among the first companies that I have seen where it's available as a service rather than buying the system."

While buying a system is a great investment, the savings you might receive via leasing matches up over the life of the contract.

"I think that overcoming this (expensive) hurdle for most households will be very attractive," she said. "A lot of people just can't scrape together the money to pay for the system up front."
(Otis Hart, asap reporter )Want to comment? Sound off at soundoffasap@ap.org on a deal that seems too good to be true.

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