It’s the big Lone Star at the center of our solar system. It brings life to our planet. Shines bright in the eyes of Texans. And it’s getting hotter all the time in places like Plano as one of the best and cheapest choices of energy around.
As energy prices rise, people in Plano and elsewhere are choosing solar power options that make environmental sense while saving them lots of cents in kilowatt hour expense, too.
Improvements in solar engineering and lower solar panel production costs have fueled a growing trend across the world, the U.S. and cities like Plano where more residents and businesses than ever are tapping into the power of the sun.
A report from the City of Plano Building Department shows it granted 44 solar energy system permits to citizens the past year. Collectively, residents have invested a total of nearly $800,000 in those systems. Costs for most of the individual solar power systems ranged from about $2,000 to nearly $40,000.
Plano Solar Advocates is a volunteer grass roots group led by Larry Howe and Bob Litwins. The group’s mission is to increase awareness and use of solar energy to generate electricity in Plano. They hope to make the city a regional solar power leader.
Plano Solar Advocates sponsored the “Solarize Plano” pilot program this year. The program helps homeowners better understand the process for getting a solar energy system installed on their homes. After holding several information sessions this summer, and signing up Plano homeowners ready to install solar, the organizers will reach out to local solar system installers and negotiate a group deal. Installations are scheduled to be complete by year’s end.
“Texas has a lot of sunshine and we use a lot of energy,” said Howe. “So it makes sense to be good stewards of our state’s natural resources.”
Litwins noted that one of the main barriers to homeowners installing a solar energy solution is the short term return on their up-front investment. But Plano Solar Advocates believe the investment should be viewed differently.
In 2009, Litwins installed 10 panels on the roof of his 2,100-square-foot home. Those panels provide about a third of his annual electricity needs. Litwins believes he will pay about 8 cents per kilowatt power over the estimated 25 year lifespan of those solar panels. Given the possible swings in the energy market, Litwins views the flat rate as a good hedge against potential rising energy costs.
“Residents should also view their solar energy systems as a good selling point because of the value it adds to their homes,” said Howe.
The solar advocates believe homeowners who carefully review their annual home energy expenses will find they can save as much as 20 percent or more on their energy bills when installing a solar energy system.
“People are becoming more conscious of approaches to sustainable living which is putting alternative energy options more on their radar screens,” said Litwins. “There’s definitely growing momentum in that direction. This is a great time for people to build their understanding about solar power and choosing solar energy as a sustainable, clean energy option.”
Howe noted that Plano's Smart Energy Loan Program supports affordable energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy system loans to Plano homeowners. Plano established the program through the U.S. Department of Energy together with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In partnership with Credit Union of Texas, the City of Plano provides homeowners with a variety of financing options for energy efficiency upgrades.
Howe said as of the end of last year there were about 50 homes and a few businesses in Plano that installed solar energy systems. Howe noted that through the end of 2012 about 600 solar power systems were installed in the DFW area. Statewide over 4,200 systems have been installed through the end of 2012, according to Howe’s report. Austin and San Antonio led the state with about 2,300 installations in the state capitol area and over 1,000 installed solar systems in the Alamo City.
According to Environment Texas report, municipally owned power companies in Austin and San Antonio also promote strong policies to promote solar power. Last month, Environment Texas announced in a special report that Texas ranks 13th in the nation for solar power.
Rachel Stone, Clean Energy Attorney with Environment Texas, had this to say about the report’s findings: “Texas has the best solar energy potential in the nation. There is no reason why we can’t follow the path established by the top solar states to create vigorous markets for solar energy here in Texas. Considering the increasing threat of global warming, Texas can and must become a leading solar state.”
The report, Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States, was released by the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center.
Howe’s report showed over 175,000 solar energy installations across the U.S. through the end of last year, with California leading the way with over 100,000+ installations, followed by New Jersey with about 10,000+ new systems. While impressive, the U.S. installations are far less than other countries, like Germany, that face skyrocketing energy prices. Germany installed over 1.2 million solar energy systems through the end of 2012, according to Howe’s report.
Go here to learn more about solar and alternative energy by connecting with the North Texas Renewable Energy Group and the Texas Solar Society. The 2013 National Solar Home Tour-DFW Edition event is scheduled Saturday, October 5 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Attendees can talk with homeowners who are using solar energy, wind energy, solar hot water, and other energy-efficiency measures for their homes.
Visit the DFW Solar Home Tour website for links to the tour locations that include Bob Litwins’ residence among the five Plano homes on the tour. The website lists details about each home along with information about the National Solar Home Tour. Learn more from Green Source DFW about the tour that’s described as the world's largest grassroots solar event.
Solar energy systems, also called photovoltaic (PV) systems, have become attractive for their ability to generate clean, cost-effective power anywhere the sun shines. You can take a look at this brief video from the U.S. Department of Energy that shows how a PV panel converts sun energy into renewable electricity to power homes and businesses.
The nation’s energy department also offers this video that describes how the “solarize” community group purchase concept works. The video also provides an overview of the concept behind The Solarize Guidebook, which offers neighborhoods a plan for getting volume discounts when making group purchases of rooftop solar energy systems.
Here’s a video offered by the Plano Solar Advocates: Solar Energy in Texas - Don't you wonder?
A lot of North Texas sunshine has also been harnessed in recent years to run City of Plano buildings.
Yarcus Lewis, City of Plano Sustainability Coordinator, says the City has four buildings collecting solar energy: the Environmental Education Center, Logistic Warehouse, Oak Point Recreation Center and Tom Muehlenbeck Recreation Center.
The Environmental Education Center has been tapping solar energy for three years. The Center’s solar panels generate nearly 12 kilowatts of power. The facility also has a wind turbine that generates about two and half kilowatts. The other buildings were equipped to gather solar power the past year and half and generate about 10 kilowatts of energy each. The four solar energy systems contribute all their power to their host buildings.
Lewis said the systems, purchased with federal grants awarded to the city, have generated an estimated $9,000 in annual electricity savings.
A range of Plano-based commercial companies also have plans for large solar energy installations, including a substantial solar energy system designed for a major retail store location in coming months.
Visit www.livegreeninplano.com to find out more about Plano’s sustainability and environmental events, activities and educational offerings.
Plano residents can go here to learn more about the Live Green in Plano Volunteer program’s Fall training classes.
October class offerings include two sessions held on October 8 focusing on Air Quality and Energy. Participants can learn about factors that impact air quality as well as the link between air quality and energy sources.
Residents are invited to attend a “Green Building” class offered October 15 and October 17. Attendees can learn what "green building” means, along with the benefits and importance of energy efficiency. Instructions will also be offered on simple steps that can be taken to make changes in a home environment.
Sessions are held at the Plano Environmental Education Center, 4116 W. Plano Parkway in Plano. Participants must complete an online registration to attend. Questions can be directed to Nancy Casillas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-769-4313.