Texas going green? Homeowners embrace solar panels, aiming to drastically reduce electricity bills

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Ten years ago, Larry Howe was drawn to solar power and became an early adopter. He installed solar panels on the roof of his Plano, Texas home in 2012 and a few years later added solar panels above his back patio to provide shade and power. .

“We use air conditioning the most in the summer when the sun is shining,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Why not take advantage of producing some of that electricity when I need it?'”

Similar ideas have won over millions of owners across the country.

The United States reached 1 million residential solar installations in 2016 and reached 2 million in 2019. At the end of June 2022, approximately 3.5 million residential solar installations were in place nationwide, according to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and research firm Wood Mackenzie. .

More growth is coming. Last month, Congress approved a climate law that increases the solar rooftop tax credit to 30% and remains in place for a decade. Residential solar capacity in Texas will increase fivefold by 2027, in part because of the tax relief, the solar energy association said.

Many homeowners choose solar power due to concerns about climate change and extreme weather conditions. They want to reduce their carbon footprint and embrace clean energy.

Others want to lower their electricity bills, and solar’s cost-effective proposition has never been better. Electricity rates have jumped over the past year, while the cost of solar panels has fallen sharply over the past decade. This combination shortens the payback period of the solar energy investment.

Texans have additional reasons to consider solar power. After a 2021 winter storm shut down the network for days and killed hundreds, some want to become more self-sufficient and lighten the load on the network.

When Howe first added solar panels, he knew just about every house in his neighborhood that had them.

“Now every time I drive around Plano I think, ‘I don’t remember that one,'” he said. “They’ve become almost commonplace, and that’s a good thing.”

Howe, who co-founded the volunteer group Plano Solar Advocates, has tracked the number of rooftop installations statewide since 2014. It includes businesses, such as big-box stores, but residences make up the vast majority .

Texas had more than 160,000 rooftop solar projects in the fourth quarter of last year, more than double the number in 2019, according to data from Howe and the Texas Solar Energy Society.

Utility-scale solar power, created by utility companies in the deregulated Texas market, accounts for the vast majority of solar generation here. Texas ranks at the bottom of the states for the share of solar power coming from residential, a metric that shows plenty of room for growth.

“Small-scale solar” projects, as they are often called, are on the rise. They generated more than 2.2 million megawatt hours of electricity in Texas last year, up from 1 million megawatt hours two years earlier, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.

The average value of solar panel shipments – an indicator of price used by the government – ​​fell nearly 83% between 2010 and 2021. This included an 11% drop last year despite supply chain constraints. procurement and rising material costs, the agency said.

Howe said he spent about $10,000 in disbursements on his system, which totals 4.5 kilowatts. It generates about 60% of his electricity consumption annually and saves him about $100 per month on his electricity bill.

Typically, he said, homeowners can recoup their initial solar investments in about 10 years. Its payback period will be closer to 12 to 14 years because the cost was higher ten years ago and electricity rates were lower.

Howe helped create the first solar cooperatives that brought together local residents and leveraged their purchasing power for rooftop projects, and this approach continues. On Tuesday, the 2022 version of the Plano Solar Cooperative was launched with help from nonprofit Solar United Neighbors.

“A big part of our job is to bring people together around their common interests to learn more about solar energy and installation costs,” said Hanna Mitchell, the group’s Texas program director. “Cooperatives are a big part of that.

By Wednesday, 30 people had signed up to learn about solar panels and bulk purchase discounts. The goal is to attract 150 members by the end of November.

The co-op’s webpage is at solarunitedneighbors.org/plano, and information sessions are offered September 22 and 29.

Members will exchange information and evaluate suppliers, eventually selecting a contractor to perform installations for the group. In Plano, the average solar panel array is 8 kilowatts, capable of generating about 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, Mitchell said.

The average cost is about $20,000 including the co-op rebate and before the federal tax credit. Co-op members typically get a 10% to 20% discount, Mitchell said, and they are under no obligation to purchase panels or use the selected vendor.

“It’s a great way to learn about solar power, and sellers need to be really transparent,” said Raul Lozano, owner of Plano since 2015. “And you’ll probably get the best deal.”

Lozano was a member of the Plano Solar Cooperative last year and purchased a much larger than average 17 kilowatt system for his 2,700 square foot home. He said he paid about $32,000 before the tax credit and was producing about 88% of his electricity in 2022.

“It’s overperforming,” Lozano said. “Some months I paid nothing.”

This is not necessarily ideal because the value of excess production is limited in Texas. The state does not require net metering, which pays homeowners the full cost of electricity when they feed excess electricity into the grid.

Most states, as well as some large municipal utilities in Texas, have net metering policies that reward larger generators.

While Lozano expects to recoup its costs in about eight years, it said it couldn’t take full advantage of the size of its system.

“Anything extra I produce probably goes to my neighbor and the retailer charges for it,” Lozano said. “But I don’t get paid.”

This leads to unorthodox approaches to energy consumption. During the day, when demand is highest and Texas grid operators sometimes ask residents to reduce their electricity usage, Lozano and Howe charge their electric vehicles and run washers, dryers, and dishwashers.

This is because they can generate more solar energy than they use. And if they wait to charge EVs overnight, they have to pay a higher retail rate.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, at least 38 states have mandatory net metering rules. Net metering strengthens the financial case for adding panels, but Mitchell said Texas lawmakers don’t like the idea.

“There’s more support for letting the market handle it,” she said.

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