Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

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First-Time Homeowner? First Know This One Thing About Utilities

Believe me, I was stunned when I heard this: victims of Hurricane Irma and Harvey are paying to support dirty energy; you might be as well.

Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is a lobbying group that partners with power companies nationwide. EEI doesn’t lobby for renewables, which—if fully implemented—could power the grid. EEI lobbies for fracking, and the group spreads misinformation about climate change. When you pay the power company each month, there’s a very good possibility you’re paying to support EEI’s lobbying efforts. You can read the full report here.

As a homeowner, you’re in a different place (literally and figuratively) than you were as a renter. Renters have no choice but to pay a power company for electricity, unless their landlords convert the home to solar. Besides the possibility of the power company using your dollar to fund EEI, there are also annoying things to deal with, such as the “summer energy charge” I have to pay during the hot months every summer. Nothing like paying a higher price for power purely because it’s hot outside.

Homeowners have the chance to convert to solar and eschew shady power companies. With solar, you know exactly where your dollar is going and where your power is coming from. Imagine no electricity bills and no carbon footprint.

But owning a home is expensive. You have to decide whether solar is a viable option based on what you can afford upfront.

Weighing the Cost of Solar

Solar panel costs depend on which panels you buy, the price of installation, and how much sunlight your home sees throughout the year. Overall, solar just keeps getting cheaper. In 2016, the cost of a residential solar system was 12 percent lower than it was in 2015. Power Scout (a company that links consumers with solar suppliers) reports that “the average system has about 18 panels and costs about $12,500 (after the Federal ITC).” The Federal ITC is the solar investment tax credit; you can deduct 30 percent of the cost of installation from your federal taxes until 2020, when the deduction will go down to 26 percent. After that, it will continue to go down until it hits 10 percent in 2022.

Different solar panel models achieve different levels of efficiency. The high-efficiency panels deliver 365 watts of power, while the low-efficiency panels deliver 100 watts. In 2016, people paid $3 to $4 per watt for their solar panels.

To determine if solar is right for you, ask yourself these two questions:

  • How much electricity does your household consume on average?
  • How many sun-hours does your roof see?

Your monthly bill shows you how much electricity you typically consume. As for “sun-hours”, that’s a measurement of the average amount of time the sun shines on your roof. You’ll determine your savings by answering the question, “Based on how much sun my roof gets, how much power can solar panels generate, and how does the cost of that power compare to my regular cost of electricity?”

You can use a solar cost calculator to figure this out. The easiest one to access is Google’s. Simply type “solar calculator” into the search field and then enter your address into the calculator.

Don’t have enough money to convert to solar? Try switching your lightbulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent (CFL) or light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. An energy savings calculator can help you determine your potential savings.

Additionally, try these proven ways to reduce energy consumption: 

  • Get a smart thermostat—it can save you up to $150 a year
  • Close curtains and blinds during the day, and buy thermal curtains
  • Unplug electronics when not in use
  • Plant shade trees around your house 

And there are even more ways to save on your summer energy bills: 

  • Cook with the microwave: Microwaves are efficient, and you’ll save a little on air conditioning, because stoves add heat to the home
  • Replace air conditioner filters: Excessive dirt on filters will make your AC system work harder than it should; replace once a month or as needed
  • Make your home airtight: Leaks waste energy
  • Get energy-efficient appliances 

The money you save can go towards solar panels in the future, as well as vital house repairs.

The Benefits of Solar

You may not see any savings for solar in your area. But if you’ve learned how to save money and you’re interested in doing your part to slow climate change, solar is an attractive option. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Your money will not go towards supporting an organization like EEI, an organization that has a vested interest in making sure people don’t use solar power
  • Your money will not go towards supporting fracking, nuclear energy, or coal power
  • You’ll have a smaller carbon footprint
  • Over time, the cost of utilities (including electricity) continues to rise, while the cost of solar power will never rise
  • Technologies such as electric vehicles and smart homes will continue to improve, and you can use your solar panels to power both a smart home and an electric vehicle

Along with wind, solar is one key to the future of clean energy. Will you contribute to that future? As a new homeowner, you have the freedom to decide.








About Daniel Matthews

Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer who specializes in finance, tech, business, and current events. You can find him on Twitter.
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