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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of…Rooftop Solar?

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On this Independence Day, we at ClearlyEnergy are of course thinking of energy independence – not the national kind, with debates about fracking and oil prices – the consumer kind: independence from your electricity bill! In the heat of summer, solar power sure comes to mind as an abundant energy solution. Read on to find out if your roof and the sun can contribute to freedom from your utility.

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Solar panels, or photovoltaics (PV), are cheaper than ever before – and the incentives to install them are becoming ever more widespread. While setting up a solar array on your roof used to be an idea for rich hippies and die-hard environmentalists, it can now save everybody cold hard cash:. the electric company pays YOU rather than the other way around …talk about independence. Here are some hot policies you can take advantage of:

Tax credits – Let’s start with the national one: the federal government will cover 30% of what it costs you to set up solar panels at your home! According to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which is valid through 2016, “a taxpayer may claim a credit of qualified expenditures for a system that serves a dwelling unit located in the United States that is owned and used as a residence.” And it’s not just the actual panels you can claim tax credit for: “expenditures include labor costs for on-site preparation, assembly or original system installation, and for piping or wiring to interconnect a system to the home.” If your rebate ends up bigger than your tax bill, you can carry the rest forward to future years through 2016. Here’s what the IRS form for 2012 looks like.
There are plenty of state rebates for residential solar, too. Each is different and this database can help guide you, but many are similar to the federal one: New York, for instance, will cover 25% of the bill for installing home solar - up to $5000. Arizona covers 25% as well, up to $1000 – however, that’s just the personal tax rebate: the Grand Canyon State also offers a property tax exemption and sales tax credit on the equipment.

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Net metering – Another way states make it easier for you to reap the rewards of producing electricity on your roof is by allowing the wires bringing power to your house to become a two-way street: the electricity measured in kilowatt hours your system generates goes back onto the grid and gets subtracted from your overall electricity bill. On some days, you may actually produce more power than you use – on these days the utility pays you for power rather than the other way around! This concept is called net metering, and is set up differently in each region – here’s a website explaining all the net metering policies in the US, appropriately called Freeing the Grid. Remember that despite your solar panels ability to generating electricity, net metering works precisely because you are connected to the local grid – if power goes out in a storm affecting the local grid, you may or may not end up lighting candles like everybody else depending on how your solar array is connected.

Feed-in tariffs – Though tariffs sound like something you pay, the term actually refers to a guaranteed rate that is paid to you for renewable electricity. It’s a contract in which the utility promises to pay a certain (higher than normal!) guaranteed rate for electricity if that electricity comes from renewable sources…including your roof. The public utility in the LA area just started offering a feed-in tariff, and similar programs exist in Gainesville, Florida as well as the entire Canadian province of Ontario.
There are further incentive programs in place to make solar affordable, and a number of private firms have built businesses to help you navigate the policy landscape and defray the upfront costs of solar. So, on this Independence Day, think of:

Life away from the grid
Liberty from your electricity bill,
and the Pursuit of Solar Power!

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