Solar: Here comes the sun

Solar: Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

DECK: FKEC offers loans for solar systems

Florida Keys Electric Cooperative has introduced a solar loan program for customers in the Middle and Upper Keys. The loans, up to $20,000, are for qualified electric customers to buy and install grid-tied systems capable of sending energy back to the utility, or battery backup solar systems capable of powering the house during an outage. The loan payments would be made on the customer’s monthly electric bill.

“At FKEC we are committed to enabling our member-consumers to explore green energy practices,” said CEO Scott Newberry. “We hope to make it easier for interested members to purchase a solar photovoltaic system and/or grid-tied battery storage system. With our solar loan program our member-consumers can finance their solar purchase directly with us and make convenient payments through their monthly electric bill.”

“We’re really excited about this program,” said Lisa Kaul, project manager for SALT, a local company that installs solar systems. “This is perfect for folks who want to have a solar array, but haven’t been able to save up the cash.”

Kaul said the average home can benefit from a 5 kilowatt system, which typically cost about $20,000 for engineering, permitting, installation and equipment.

“A 5 kilowatt system could be expected to offset about 800 kilowatt-hours each month. I think that the average residential customer in the Keys uses about 1,200 kilowatt-hours each month,” Kaul said. “This would equate to around $75 each month less on an electric bill, at current FKEC rates.”

There are tax benefits to installing a solar system, too. There is a 30 percent federal income tax credit that can also be applied to the home improvement. Plus, any increases in a home’s value due to the solar improvements won’t increase property taxes.

FKEC communication consultant Nikki Dunn Cullen said the cost to install solar has fallen by half since 2008. “Technology has rapidly improved, including battery technology. Products such as the Tesla Powerwall will be game changers for solar in the near future as they will be able to store power,” she said.

Kaul said SALT is installing special SunPower panels with built-in micro-inverters. That means the large, bulky inverter hanging on an outside wall is no longer needed to convert the energy collected from DC to AC for use in the home. Also, each panel can be monitored individually for performance. She added that only about 30 to 40 percent of SALT customers choose to install battery banks, preferring the grid tie-in as it will allow customers to “sell” back the energy year-round, whether homeowners are in residence or not.

Net-metering is the practice of receiving credits on an electric bill for sending energy back to the utility. All South Florida electric utilities calculate the amount of energy sent back to the grid and if it is more than the homeowner used, the utility will pay the customer. However, most solar installers recommend purchasing a system that will provide no more than a homeowner expects to use throughout the year.

Currently, FKEC has 48 members interconnected to the grid (43 residential and 5 commercial). Since the utility began offering the grid tie-in, it has purchased nearly 1 million kilowatt hours of excess production.

Qualifying for the FKEC solar loan is based solely on the applicant’s credit history with FKEC. The interest rate for the 10-year loan was 5 percent earlier this week; members are advised to check with FKEC for the current rate.

Florida Keys Electric Cooperative is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric utility providing power service to the Upper and Middle Keys from Ocean Reef to the beginning of the Seven Mile Bridge. To learn more about FKEC’s solar loan program or other “green” initiatives visit www.FKEC.com or call Member Service at 305-852-2431.

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